The Kentuckian In Norway Trip, Part One: Åh hei, Oslo! I’ll be right back!
It’s been over a week since I was last on Norwegian soil. I wanted to wait and sort through the thousands of pictures, let the callouses on my feet heal and merely take time to reflect over what was arguably one of the most adventurous and exceptional journeys I’ve ever taken abroad. And while not the most distant and unfamiliar one by any means, the #kentuckianinnorway trip was coincidentally the longest I’ve ever taken.
So, where do I begin? No, literally — where? Chicago, Berlin, Oslo?
We’ll start chronologically with me leaving Berlin, as that seems to be the most practical way to approach it. Mixed in with my recounts are the many observations and summaries from being back in Oslo and impressions of Bergen and Trondheim for the first time, whether it be from the most mundane tasks such as talking to ticket inspectors, to mixups and missed connections to even seemingly insignificant items, sounds and signs I can recollect. These stories will also my chronicle my gradual progression with using Norwegian throughout the trip and transformed perspective about the people and Norway as a whole. There are so many moments that matter.
My feet were sore when I was heading on a bus back to Tegel airport in Berlin. My friend Lefthéris, who had met up with me after I had a spree of the touristy sights and a rather silly photo session at Checkpoint Charlie, took me on a building tour around Prenzlauer Berg that evening. After grabbing some beers beers and some delightful Turkish food (Lefthéris’s treat), we hugged and I boarded the already crowded bus. A short time later, a woman sitting in front of me was speaking in English with a South Asian accent and was concerned about the time, claiming that nearly half an hour had passed, the time we were supposed to arrive. Another woman, answering in a German accent, said she didn’t know, only having boarded 10 minutes before. Being on this very bus nine hours ago, I mentioned that we had 10 or 15 minutes to go. I was comforted after seeing the Beusselstraße stop on the right five minutes later.
When I made it to the gate at the airport, my Norwegian radar went up. There was a quartet of men decked out in athletic gear, some families and a larger group speaking in German who later went to another gate. I couldn’t decipher full conversations, but the words sounded familiar. I changed seats and listened intently with my iPod nearly dying before we finally boarded. After saying "Hei, hvordan går det" to the flight attendant and him not responding (I was flying Air Berlin) and making the mistake of sitting in the wrong seat, I realized I was next to a Norwegian man and kicked myself for switching to English as soon as I saw that he was reading a book titled Smaken av følelser.
We landed in Oslo at around 11 p.m. OSL was as quiet and impeccable as I remembered it; to this day it retains its status as one of my favorite airports. The advertisments made sense to me this time. "Inngang" and "Vær oppmerksom" were recognized before I saw their English counterparts on the signs. After directing a slighty drunk businessman to the exit, I fetched my suitcase and scouted out for the information desk.
"He! Jeg trenger å kjøpe billeter til flybussen. Hvor kan jeg gjøre det?"
The attendant answered me in Norwegian, telling me I could take a right outside of the building to stop number eleven. I wanted to pat myself on the back, and even more so because the guy seemed pleasantly surprised and was smiling the entire time, up to when I said "tusen takk." I wanted to congratulate myself even more after buying the ticket from the bus driver, after asking him if the bus went to Helsfyr, my stop, conducting the transaction entirely in Norwegian. I would later learn that he was from North Norway, when he emphasized to one of the passengers in English about regional differences.
My phone, a persistent problem during the trip, didn’t transmit the text I sent to my friend Ola, who was likely concerned about where I was. I was able to use my backup global phone (emphasis on backup) and he texted back that I could head to Oslo S, although I was able to use wifi on the bus and let him know I was on my way to Helsfyr. Unfortunately, he had went to the city center before heading back to the stop. To my relief, I saw him at Helsfyr, waiting for me.
"OLA!" I must have given him the biggest hug then, blurting something in Norwegian that I can’t remember right now.
"Takk skal du ha, jeg setter stor pris på det!" I said to the bus driver, who dragged out my 50-pound suitcase. He answered back gleefully and drove away, and at this point I was beginning to discover that my earlier impressions about Norwegians being reserved were rapidly eroding the more I used the language. We grabbed a taxi and headed to Ola’s home. While in the midst of being wholeheartedly exhausted, my eyes centered on all of the high-rise buildings and street signs we passed in Oppsal.
When I woke up, I took several photos of the view over Oslo. From the fifth floor, I could spot the city center far in the distance, although we were entirely surrounded by an expanse of forest, glowing with an autumnal cloak. Ola had fixed us a typical Norwegian breakfast: eggs, laks and rugbrød with sytletøy, smør, berries and brunost. Before we dug in, he showed me Klatring magazine; he had been featured several months before for being one of the few openly gay climbers in a typically masculine-dominated arena. After getting to the end of the article, I started laughing. Ola, knowing which quote I was tickled by, said, “I had to.” After taking photos of the spread and the magazine and having a mixed Norwegian-English conversation, we would later head to the realm where he attained his celebrity status: Klatreverket.
Taking the T-Bane again was a delight. Ola was excited about showing me the newly-renovated Ensjø station, which had been remodeled with black granite. I had no idea where we were going, but simply happy to be using public transport, feeling a bit like a Norwegian. I snapped some shots with my phone and people-watched as we walked around the outskirts of inner Oslo.
Klatreverket was something I was unprepared for. After being amazed by how state-of-the-art the facility was, I rented some climbing shoes and was in awe again by the neverending stories of rocks. And many people were climbing them, tactfully as if like ants. Ola had already tackled those before of course, but we started with an easy “problem”. After failing to solve it and falling several times on my bum and watching Ola glide through a couple in a matter of minutes, I finally completed the task, although worn out. We went upstairs and approached several more challenges, although at this point I mostly became a spectator to Ola’s brilliance and strength and the skill of the other regulars.
After an evening of climbing, we headed next door to a bar (a rather convenient idea to place it next to a gym) to get a couple of beers. I had ordered two in Norwegian, but the bartender seemed confused. I repeateded myself again and pointed at them and after Ola explained in English, she served them to us and I noticed her Polish accent.
"I liked how she was using English you were insistent on using Norwegian," he later laughed. I was secretly worried I had butchered some words.
The laughter continued — partly in Norwegian and English again — with stories about travel and whatnot before we headed to a sushi restaurant right outside of Grünerløkka. Our reservation was ready and Ola greeted the maître d’ and waved to the chef in the back. When he mentioned this was one of his favorite places, he wasn’t kidding. I took note of how stylish everyone looked and absorbed bits and pieces of the conversations, all which were in Norwegian. I told Ola that I still had trouble deciphering who said what entirely, although he said it was too loud anyway (as as a sound tech for many years, his hearing had been through its share of noises).
The meal that followed would be, without exagerration or hyperbole, the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life. Some of it looked familiar to what one would find in maybe the Highlands or the East End in Louisville; the laks- and cod-based sushi stood out to me the most in taste, and it was clear that the chef, adding a Norwegian spin to the dish in this instance, was known by Ola and others in Oslo for a reason.
When we finished our sake, the check came. I had told Ola before we left for Klatreverket that I needed to stick to a budget of 150 NOK per night for meals; 10 days in Norway would have been disastrous for my wallet if not for this rule. Everything came to well over what I would have spent for half of the trip and I froze, but Ola took the bill, chatting and laughing a little with the maître d’ who he knew personally. In this moment, my thankfulness for everything Ola had done for me the first couple of days had become too overwhelming to articulate.
After riding the T-bane again and getting home, I felt a bit sad about packing, apart from the actual act of doing it which I will never liken to. I knew I would be back in Oslo, but the trip was starting to become something more than a vacation. I was noticing my own adaptations and things we beginning to fall into a certain place. I’d have this experience several times. But for now, we laid down. The Bergensbanen was to leave at 8:05, and we had to get up early.
And by early I mean 6 a.m. After bundling up, doing the checks and making our way to the bus stop on a frosty Saturday morning, Ola realized that the T-bane didn’t open until 8:00. He ordered a taxi and after some slight confusion, the driver, who was parked only a hundred or so meters away, picked us up, mumbling something that I wasn’t able to fully understand. As we headed to Oslo S, I was struck by the glistening barcode buildings in the distance. I felt the rush of a new beginning, becoming excited as we passed the sunrise.
I gave Ola a hug and we snapped some selfies before he told me which wagon to get on. I then gave him another, stronger hug and waved him goodbye in Norwegian. There’s really no way I can show my appreciation for everything he did the first couple of days; I only hope I can return the favor in the future and credit his brilliant and amazing character as much as it deserves in this post. I thought about that and sat quietly, watching others walk by the tracks before the train started to take off.