Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Hello for one last post!  I'm back in Minneapolis and am enjoying the comforts of home.  I'll be heading back to Madison at the end of the week to take the GRE and get ready for school.  Thank you for following my adventures and reading my ramblings!  I hope I've kept you up to date and entertained!


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Edinburgh, the Final Frontier

Hello again!  I'm back from Edinburgh and about half way through my last week here!
The entrance to our hostel was right by the castle and Royal Mile
I flew out to Edinburgh with two of the other guys from Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon and got back on Sunday evening.  On Thursday, we got into Edinburg at about 10pm, and went straight to our hostel, the Castle Rock Hostel.  It's located right at the bottom of the castle, so it was pretty easy to find from Waverley station where the airport bus let off.
Pretty typical view in Edinburgh, this was out of one of the hostel windows
The first thing I noticed was how every building was so old (or appeared to be) - at least before the early 1900's by my estimate.  Buildings in Norway were and still are built with a lot of wood, so there is very little old architecture visible in day to day life.  The visible history in parts of Europe, namely German and Spain because I've been there, is an aspect of Europe that I really appreciate and had missed being in Norway.  I especially noticed in Edinburgh that there were an incredible number of old Gothic churches in the downtown.  There were so many that most had been repurposed for other things if they weren't especially historic.

On Friday, we woke up relatively early and grabbed a quick breakfast of cereal, a roll with spread, and juice at the hostel for only £1.80, a pittance compared to what we paid in Oslo for about the same food (55 NOK, I think).  I found it funny how people kept joking about how "Oh, it's expensive, but that's Scotland" while I was thinking how incredibly cheap everything was compared to Norway!

St Margaret's Loch
We got out early, so we were able to hike over to Arthur's seat before it got too warm or crowded to get a view of the city from above.  On the way, we walked past St Margaret's Loch where there are the ruins of St Anthony's chapel, dating from sometime before 1426!
Contemplating the tough questions of life on a
chair we found on the way up to the top
Another view on the way up to the top.  The
castle is over to the left in this picture

Continuing the trek up, we took a few breaks to look around at the views of the city and ocean behind us.  Once we reached to top, it got a bit windy and cold, and we could hear the sound of bagpipes coming from somewhere down in the city.  We stayed at the top briefly but soon climbed part way down to the Salisbury Crags which make up a large ridge that is closer to the city and with better views of the downtown area [Cool side fact: The crags are actually the remnants of extinct volcanoes from before the most recent ice age].  I've tried to add a video from the side of the crags where you can hear some of the bagpipes (and wind).

On the Salisbury Crags

Once we were done on the crags, we were pretty close to Calton Hill and decided to walk over there.  Calton Hill is the location of the Lord Nelson monument, the city observatory, and a few other monuments.  There were more cool views of the city which we admired while resting our feet from the day's hike(s).  We also stopped at the city's museum before retiring, which was cool but I don't remember much worth commenting on.
The view from Calton Hill - I don't remember which monument it is on the left.
The castle is near the center, and the spire that I will mention later is the
dark one farthest to the right in this image.
The next day we decided to walk down to the ocean after reading one of Edinburgh's travel sites boast of its "unspoilt beaches."  We started at the castle, walked the Royal Mile down to the Scottish Parliament and palace, and then continued out of downtown.  Of course, being three guys, we neither brought a map nor stopped for directions, so we took quite a long hike to get to the beach.  When we did, it was a great relief, and we stopped to enjoy our steak pies on some rocks on the beach.  Speaking of which- I didn't expect to, but I really liked all of the meat pies that I got while in Edinburgh.  I guess the trash talk about English food is not all to be believed.
So... unspoilt
Once we had finished our delicious and filling pies, we decided to walk along the beach and later along the storm wall, heading generally back toward town.  This lead to further detours, but we were able to make better time on the way back to town.
Looking up at the Scott Monument

The castle, national gallery, and park from the top
When we got back toward the castle, we planned to stop at the national gallery for a lower key activity.  However, on the way, we saw the spire of the Scott Monument which you could climb up for just a few pounds.  The monument is right near the castle, in the center of downtown, and we had great views of the area from its top.  There were 287 steps to the top, and in the last stairwell I had to turn sideways and take off my backpack to fit!  Once we were done, the sky cleared and we walked the length of the park visible in the previous photo before getting some food and heading back to the hostel.
The castle from the park at its base.  My question:
Why do you need a wall at the top of a shear cliff?
Who would possibly try to invade up that?
The other two guys had a 6:00am flight, so they left the hostel very early Sunday morning.  I, however, didn't fly out until about 4:00pm, so I had a morning to fill.  I started off by walking to the Edinburgh University which turned out to be full of very closed, very 1960's era buildings (think a combination of Vilas hall and the ERB from Madison's campus).  Since that didn't work out, I headed over to the National Gallery to see what it had to offer.  There were a lot of great paintings that I liked by artist whose names I recognized (an accomplishment for me) like Rembrandt, Degas, Cézanne, and Monet - just to name a few.  There were also no pictures allowed, so you'll have to check it out in person or on their website if you want to see them.
Looking up at Calton Hill from North Bridge on my last day.
I got to the airport at about 2:00pm with plenty of time to spare.  However, apparently my spare battery for my camera looks like an IED detonator when viewed through their x-ray machines.  I got a pretty good scare and a (thankfully) short delay and was very glad that happened in Edinburgh and not Norway as I could basically understand what the security agent was trying to say.  Luckily, I made it through without too much hassle and caught my plane without issue.

I had a great time in Edinburgh and am starting to pack up to come home!  I can't believe it's less than a week!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

And Ah'll be in Scotlan' afore ye

I'm flying out for Edinburgh tomorrow!  I'll be staying at the Castle Rock Hostel, right at the foot of the castle and on the same block as the Grass Market, a long strip of cafés and pubs near the center of the city.  I plan to see the touristy sights and hike Arthur's Seat, which is an extinct volcano with views of the city center.  I can't believe I fly back home in just a week!

I'm definitely ready for some part of home, but this was a blast and went incredibly fast.  The students have their final next week, too, so I get to grade final exams on the Thursday before I fly out... fun!

Anywho, I'll be traveling until Sunday, so I'll post when I get back.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oslo: The "Big" City

I just got back from Oslo last night!  The city was really nice and much smaller than I expected - only about twice the size of Madison.  We also lucked out and had great weather for almost our entire stay, a rarity according to my friend from the area.
A view from the opera house roof toward the Oslo fjord
We drove up to Oslo on Thursday after class and got there around 5pm, just in time for dinner.  We had reservations at Peppe's Pizza, near the center of town, and stopped there after getting our metro passes.  The combination of great food and a long day led to our group eating ten (large) pizzas between the 13 of us.
In front of the palace with one of the guards
After dinner, we broke up into smaller groups, and mine walked down Karl Johans Gate.  This is the street with the Storting (Parliament, or literally "Big Thing"), palace, and other shops, etc.  We also stopped by the Oslo opera house which has a roof that slants down to the water and can be walked on.  The one year anniversary of the attacks in Oslo is today, July 22nd, and it looked like they were setting up for a memorial concert when we were there.
Looking at the palace down Karl Johans Gate.  I'm standing near
the Storting in this photo.
The next morning, we left the hostel in the morning for a walking tour of downtown Oslo.  We had seen many of the sights the day before, but the tour guide's stories about the buildings and places were pretty cool to hear.  We started near the Storting on Karl Johan's Gate.  Norway as an independent country is actually fairly young, and did not write a constitution until May 17th, 1814.  Their celebration, Syttende Mai, is parallel to our independence day and is a huge celebration in Oslo.  Karl Johan's Gate is full of people dressed up in their traditional clothes called "bunad", and the royal family come out on the palace balcony and wave as everyone walks by.
The building where the Storting is housed.
The Grand Café where the Nobel Peace Prize banquet is hosted is on this street, about a third of the way down.  The winner usually eats there and then comes out and gives a talk on the 2nd floor balcony.  It was also a favorite eating place of Henrik Ibsen when he lived in Oslo, and they still have a small table reserved for him as tradition.
The Grand Café.  The balcony that I mentioned
is on the 2nd story under the center tower.
We continued up the street to the old university building and national theater.  Unfortunately the entire face of the university was covered by construction, but we stopped and looked at the national theater just as storms started to move in.

Clouds roll in as we stop at the
national theater.

Another look at the Storting.

We continued on to the Oslo city hall and got inside just as it started raining.  The inside of the city hall is where the Nobel Peace Prize winner gives their main lecture, and was, coincidentally where the Norwegian studies professor with our group was married.  We also saw a glass vase that the mayor of Madison, WI had sent as a gift to Oslo from when the two were sister cities.

Thankfully, it cleared up just as we were leaving the city hall, and we headed to the metro to Bygdøy, a peninsula on the outskirts of Oslo's downtown that houses several museums.  The main attraction was the Viking ship museum, holding three ships used as burial vessels by the Vikings.  The main ship, the Oseberg (named after the location it was found) was in amazing condition.  According to our guide, it showed signs of wear that indicate it had been sailed by Vikings for a while before being buried.  There were a host of interesting things they found inside of the ships, including carts and sleds that were preserved as well, if not better than the ships themselves.

The Oseberg from the side

A cart found inside the ship- incredibly well preserved!

Looking down at the Oseberg
The rest of the day was spent exploring more of the museums on Bygdøy and other Oslo sights. We stopped at Akershus castle on the harbor and was the sight of German executions of prisoners during Norway's occupation in World War II.

Looking out from Akershus.
My favorite sight during our time in Oslo was the Holmenkollen ski jumping area.  There were great views of the city from the top, and it was amazing to see what ski jumpers see at the top of the run.  Inside the base of the jump there was a museum dedicated to Nordic combined skiing (cross country and jumping), and they had a pair of skis from Bjorn Dæhlie, one of the most famous cross country skiers ever.  We also stopped at a cathedral at the bottom that was a reconstruction of a traditional 1903 cathedral in the same spot that was burned down in the 1990's.

Myself in front of the ski jump

This is the reconstruction of the 1903 church.

A view from Akershus looking at the town and ski jump

Looking down from the top of the ski jump... scary

After a busy day on the town, we returned to the center of the city for dinner.  I had my first fresh salmon in Norway, and it was well worth the Norwegian price tag.

For our last day, we took it much easier, and walking through the Vigeland sculpture park was the only real event for the day.  The park is on the outskirts of Oslo and contains sculptures by the artist Gustav Vigeland.  The park is filled with bronze and stone statues of people that all center around themes regarding the cycle of life.  Interestingly, our guide said that he chose not to cloth any of the statues to avoid dating the park with a certain choice of clothing.
In Vigeland park

The Angry Boy

I forgot, also I saw "The Scream"

The group in Vigeland Park

I had a great time in Oslo, and the weather thankfully held out for us for the most part while we were there!  Next weekend, I'll be heading to Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days of sightseeing (where the weather will likely not be quite as nice).  I'm really excited and will be staying at Castle Rock hostel, right at the foot of the royal castle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Der Borte - Over There

Hello again!  I'm heading to Oslo this afternoon, to return on Saturday.  We're planning to see the Viking Ship Museum, the Vigeland Sculpture Park, and some other museums and shopping areas.  Oslo is the largest city in Norway as well as its capital, and hosts their royal palace and the Storting, their parliament.

More hiking around Grimstad



This is the same bay that the downtown is on (it's to the
right in this photo)

I've also finally travel made plans for my last weekend in Europe!  I'll give you a hint, I'm staying in a hostel at the foot of a 12th century castle but have access to "unspoilt beaches"...  I'll leave that as a mystery until I get back on Saturday.  Have a good weekend!

Monday, July 16, 2012

There and Back Again...

The Palacio Real in downtown Madrid
Hello again!  I got back from visiting my friend Rebecca in Madrid yesterday afternoon (check out here blog here for another perspective and more pictures).  I had a great time but was too exhausted to post before bed.  I saw a lot and heard lots of new names, so grab some snacks, and I'll try not to make too many mistakes.

I flew out from Kristiansand airport on Thursday afternoon and landed around midnight in Madrid.  My plane to Amsterdam was actually late to leave, but luckily I was able to power-walk my way through Schiphol and make the connection.  After a month abroad and a long day of traveling, it was a definite relief to see Rebe at the airport, and I crashed soon after arriving at her apartment.

After waking Friday morning, I quickly realized that I had packed for Norway weather, which is about twenty to thirty degrees Fahrenheit colder than Madrid (and had forgotten to pack all but one of my short sleeve shirts, anyway).  Pulling on my single available shirt and a pair of jeans, we headed out for a long but jam-packed day in Madrid.
The Almudena cathedral next to the palace
only completed in 1993!

Madrid has a great Metro system, so after buying a ticket we were able to get anywhere we wanted within a few blocks.  We started our day at the Ópera metro station and went to the royal palace.  The palace is from the mid 18th century and is actually no longer lived in by the royal family.  We didn't stop for a tour, but could peak through the fence to see most of the exterior and courtyard.  Immediately next to the palace was the Almudena cathedral, so we stopped in to check it out.  I only had my little camera, so I didn't take many pictures, but it was a really interesting mixture of old and new styles of art and architecture.
The interior of Almudena cathedral

Walking the streets of Madrid
I had to take a picture, I felt so at home!
We walked the streets and after walking through the Plaza Mayor and passing the oldest restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botin, we stopped at a Museo del Jamón (literally, "ham museum").  Despite their name, these were small walk in restaurants scattered around Madrid's streets filled with delicious ham.  I had the Spanish version of prosciutto and was astounded at how cheap the prices were - at least compared to what I would pay in Norway.

The main statue and pond in Retiro Park
The last major stop of the day was in Retiro Park, a huge park right in the center of town with lots of trees and water features.  The park includes a few large ponds and an art museum filled with exhibits that went far over my head.  At this point it had been quite the long, hot day, so after seeing the major sites in the park, we stopped in the shade until heading back.
Puerta de Alcalá on one of the major roads of Madrid

That night, we went to get tapas at a bar near Rebecca's apartment with her roommate.  While discovering how much of the Spanish language I had really forgotten, I had what they declared the best tapas in all of Madrid.  With an order of a beer each, we got five plates of appetizers (her blog has pictures), and before we finished one, another would be put out!  By the time we had finished our second beer, we were all full to bursting with excellent food and (I was) ready for bed.
The Plaza de Toros had the Hapsburg
seal on its outside...  History dorks,
be impressed

On Saturday, we woke up later and embarked on a slightly less ambitious day.  We started by walking around the bull fighting ring, Plaza de Toros, and then continued to Plaza España.  The plaza had a huge pillar and statue of Don Quixote and Sancho.  While admiring the fountain and statue, we listened in on an American high school teacher using the story of Don Quixote as a pretty interesting allegory how the world is so dependent on your perspective.

The entire statue/column in Plaza
España.  I'm told the building
behind is actually abandoned

Don Quixote and Sancho
Later, we visited the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple donated and moved to Madrid in the late 60's.  We also walked past the Real Madrid stadium and looked awesome posing in front of the Puerta Europa.  We had some more delicious (and cheap!) Spanish cuisine, and went down to the river walk to end the day.

Rebecca single handedly stops
Spain's banks from collapsing
I'm definitely not sweating like crazy
in the Spanish heat

Puerta Europa
I had a great time and want to thank Rebecca again for hosting me and taking me through Madrid's many sights (which I'm sure are all old hat to her by now).

Hasta luega, Madrid!

Inside the Temple of Debod.  Actual ancient Egyptian engravings!

Looking out from the river walk

Puerta de Toledo at the end of Saturday