Sunday, 10 July 2011


Finally, I’ve found somewhere to go to the cinema!  Gimle is a beautiful old cinema, located on Bygdoy Allé.  While not exactly the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin (but then again, what was, or ever will be?), Gimle has a particular kind of charm.

From the outside, it looks absolutely tiny, and it is.  The cinema first opened in 1939 and has only one screen(!) with room for about 260 people.

A beautiful entrance hall leads into the reception, where you buy wine and beer (so civilised!).  Popcorn is also sold here, but somehow it manages to stay either in the boxes or bodies of those who choose to eat it, and never quite makes it to the floor, unlike in other cinemas I no longer care to mention.  The entire floor (apart from the bathroom - of course!) is covered in carpet, which feels clean, comfortable and reassuringly old-fashioned.

Each seat in the screening room comes with a generous amount of space, an internal mechanism to adjust the seat for maximum lounging comfort, along with a small tray where you can place your wine.

Last week we went to see Midnight in Paris here – a totally enjoyable experience!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

17 May

A fortnight ago the Norwegians celebrated their national day, or Constitution Day.  The reason for the celebrations is that the Norwegian Constitution was signed on 17 May 1814.  Unfortunately, during the nineteenth century, the Swedish King forbade the celebration as it was seen as a protest against Swedish rule.  However, the Norwegians persisted, and by 1864, it was popular to organise parades through what was then called Christiania (now Oslo).  The parades consisted of groups of schoolchildren (boys only until 1899) walking through the city. 

The tradition of celebrating Constitution Day was strengthened following the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905, and the German surrender in 1945.  Somewhere along the way, the focus of the celebration was altered slightly from the signing of the constitution, to the royal family.

Today, the tradition of the parade continues throughout Norway.  In Oslo city centre, around 100 schools and marching bands parade before the royal family.  This parade is called a Barnatoget (literally ‘child train’).  The parade ends with the singing of both the National and Royal anthems.  After the parade, activities are organised for children in the city centre.

It is not only the young children who get involved in the 17 May parade and celebrations.  This day also sees the end of the ‘Russetiden’, a time of hard partying and celebration for the annual ‘Russen’ –young Norwegian school-goers in the middle of the equivalent of the Leaving Certificate. 

The partying starts towards the end of April and continues for over three weeks.  Parties and events are organised every single night.  Usually, a group of Russen club together to buy a bus, which they paint and decorate as part of a competition.  They hire a driver for the three weeks to drive them from party to party, where there can be literally thousands of other Russen going wild for the night.  During these three weeks, an important tranche of the continuous assessment for the year has to be submitted.  (We thought partying after the Leaving Cert results was wild!!) 

Russen wear distinctive clothes (a blue boiler suit for the two-year cycle, and a red boiler suit for the three year cycle).  These boiler suits contain a special pouch for the wearer’s identity card with home address details etc.  I’ve been informed that this is useful in case of an accident – i.e. if found, please return to…

Russen also take part in the parade on this last day of the celebration, although they are usually seen lying crashed out on the grass somewhere during the day, or being hounded by little children who collect their Russekorten – personalised ‘business cards’ which Norwegian children are crazy about.

Another fabulous element of the 17 May celebrations is the wearing of the Bunad or traditional Norwegian dress.  This is something you would not see in Ireland – and I’d swap it for those hideous leprachaun outfits any day.  The Bunad is worn at weddings, confirmations, Christmas and other traditional occasions.

Norwegian children normally receive a Bunad as a gift to celebrate their confirmation.  It is an extremely expensive output, costing around 4,000 Euro and upwards, and is seen as something of a status symbol.  On the upside, it’s totally handmade and embroidered and consists of fabulous material, and usually some jewellery.

Each area in Norway has its own traditional Bunad.  The range of outfits, colours and patterns is quite large.  Interestingly, it is local councils and committees that decide on the traditional Bunad for their area, i.e. in most cases, it may not be the most popular form of dress in that area.  The following website shows many different kinds of bunad:

There is a debate in Norway about which Bunad it is appropriate to wear – i.e. should you wear one from the area you are from, or the area you live in.  Luckily, an institution, the Norsk Institute for Bunad of Folkedrakt, has been set up to answer these, and other burning questions, about the Bunad.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


Yesterday, the group of appartment blocks where I live had what’s called a Dugnad.  A Dugnad is a Norwegian tradition, which is not entirely dissimilar to the Irish tradition of ‘Meitheal’. 

The Dugnad has grown out of an old farming tradition where groups of farmers got together in the olden days to sow seeds, gather the harvest etc.  The idea basically is that the community pitches in to complete a task that cannot be done as quickly or as efficiently by an individual.

Unlike in Ireland, the tradition here has been adapted to modern city life.  At this time of year, most people are involved in one Dugnad or another – at their appartment blocks, or at their children’s schools or creches. 

The community gathers together to help spring clean the common areas: plant flowers: kill weeds: and, generally tidy the place up.  In our case, the water feature, which has been turned off all winter (because of the freezing conditions) is also turned back on.  The sound of running water acting as the final official signal that spring has arrived.

Not only does it help to clean the place up and make it look nice, it’s also an opportunity to get to know your neighbours.  After two hours labour, the workers gather together for a snack and a chat.  In our case, we had norwegian Polse (Hot-dogs) along with buns, muffins, beer, wine and apple schnapps.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

An Emigrant's Resolution

Having spent the first two months in my new home adjusting to life altering situations like a new job, a new home, and a radical seasonal shift from snow to sunshine in about two weeks, I pretty much neglected any regular physical exercise, and have recently been feeling, and seeing, the results.  Consequently, I have resolved to start jogging. 

Jogging is something I never really got in to in Dublin.  I think this is mainly out of self consciousness (mixed with laziness), however, a certain freedom comes with being in a country where an extremely limited number of people have any idea who you are.

As the sun rises at about half four in the morning, and I still haven’t gotten around to making curtains for the bedroom window, it’s really no trouble at all getting out of bed at half six to go for a run before work.  (At least it hasn’t been, for the grand total of three times I have gone out so far…)  I am also lucky to live near Frongnerkilen, which is really a beautiful place to run.  In addition, the weather has been pretty decent, so I have had no excuse at all so far.

This week, I have been running out past Frongnerkilen to Bygdøy.  The run has some lovely views of the Fram Museum, which houses the Fram Ship, the first ship built for polar expeditions in Norway.  It also tells the story of the three main Fram expeditions, under the leadership of Fridtjof Nansen over the Arctic Ocean; Otto Sverdrup to the arctic archipelago west of Greenland; and, Roald Amundsen to the South Pole.  I have yet to visit this museum but it’s on the list!

On the other side of the marina is Oscar’s Hall, a summer palace which is a monument to Norwegian artists and craftsmen.

Once on Bygdøy, we pass Kongsgården, the King’s farm (and forest), which has cattle, horses and sheep.  At about three kilometres, this is about as far as I can make it, without having to call an ambulance.  Hopefully, the distance will increase with time.  At the moment though, I’m just hoping for consistency!

P.S. Excuse the photo quality - the combination of jogging and photography is another skill I need to develop!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Saturday Sunshine

Spring is here!  It’s official.  The snow has disappeared and the sun is out.  Yesterday it was thirteen degrees and exactly like a summer’s day in Dublin.  We decided to go out for a walk and a picnic. 

We walked up to the Apent Bakeri, a lovely French bakery, to get some sandwiches and tomatoe bread.  The bread this place sells is delicious, soaked in just the right amount of olive oil – a little indulgence is always a good thing!   

What better place to have our picnic than in the castle gardens?  Henrik picked a nice sunny spot beside Camilla Collett’s statue.  Camilla Collett is one of Norway’s first female writers and a feminist.


We read the paper, chatted and watched the changing of the guard twice.  The contrast between the warmth of the sunshine and being out skiing with Ellen and Megan last weekend was a little disorientating.  It sort of felt like we were in a different country.  The snow is great but I’m pretty sure I like this sunny place better.

After our picnic we walked down Karl Johan’s Gate, past the Parliament building and then over to En Café in Vika for a glass of wine.  Our one glass of wine turned into a couple more.  We met some of Henrik’s friend at the Café.  I think we could have stayed there until all hours but luckily the Café closed at eight.  At that stage it was time to go home!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Baby Slopes

Today, I finally felt like skiing was something I might actually be able to DO, sometime in the future.

We headed up to the Nordmarka at about 12.30.  I rented my skis, sticks and boots with insurance from the Tryvann Vinterpark Skiservice for 210NOK.  I think that this is relatively good value considering the risk to the ski hire business of having a Novice Ignoramous like me out and about using their equipment.

It hasn’t snowed in a week, so we weren’t sure if there was going to be enough snow to ski or not, but it turns out the conditions were perfect.  I’m not sure what perfect conditions are, but the man in the ski hire shop said that, and after my experience, I believe him!  It wasn’t overly sunny, and felt a little cold, but the air was so lovely and clean.  It was great!

We went skiing at Kong Olav’s Lope, named after King Olav (1903 – 1991) who used to ski there often with his dog, Troll.  Now, I don’t want to be casting aspersions on King Olav, or indeed his dog’s, skiing prowess, but we chose this place because of how relatively easy it is to ski.  It has very little steep slopes or high ascents, and is perfect for a beginner like me.

The past couple of times I’ve been out I’ve literally frozen at the top of anything that looked like it was going downwards.  (This happens a lot with mountains. ;))  But thanks to Henrik’s patience and repeated practice last week, I think I’ve actually developed a little.

For the first time (this is probably my fifth time skiing in total), I actually felt like I could go ‘downhill’.  Now, when I say downhill, I don’t mean like a steep slope, I mean something with a gradient of about five degrees, going in a forward direction.  But it was a brilliant feeling – leaning into the air while gliding forwards – not caring if I was going to fall or not, and gaining more and more confidence each time.

We spent about an hour and a half out on the mountain, practising technique, learning how to go downhill, learning how to break and stop, and falling a LOT!  My boss at BAI told me that it takes 100 falls to make a skier.  I think I’m getting pretty close to that target!

We found a nice spot at the top of the mountain to stop and have a picnic. Warm berry juice in a thermos and two brown bread sandwiches – one with paté and one with danish cheddar.  Yum yum.  After having eaten and rested, we skied a little more, and came home.

The Norwegians have a saying ‘Ut på tur, aldri sur’.  It means, when your out in the fresh air, it’s never bad.  I agree.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Halvorsens Conditori

It's fair to say that I have been warned often enough about how expensive Oslo is.  Between the varying exchange rate, the decimal points (my maths has suffered since the introduction of the Euro), and the fact that I haven't really been here for more than a week in the past, I sort of thought it was ok.  Expensive, but ok.  As long as one didn't go in for too many bottles of wine with a meal etc. it would be alright.  On Saturday, the bubble burst.

We were shopping in town and decided to go for lunch.  Henrik suggested this cake shop which is tucked in beside the Parliament and the Freemason Building. (Ahem).  It looked really lovely, and we were starving so we decided to go in.  On the way we passed a beautiful old-fashioned window cake-display.  This looked like the place for me!

According to, Halvorsens has served cakes, french pastries, sandwiches and canapés to the people of Oslo since 1881.  Had I read this before going in, the word canapés might have rung some warning bells.  However, none the wiser, and having passed the lovely cake display, in we went.  We passed an amazing looking counter with fabulous fresh cakes:

And really healthy looking sandwiches:

We also found a nice seat in a corner beside a photo of what the place looked like in 1881:

By the looks of things there weren't many customers back then.  But on Saturday, it was full of the pleasant hustle and bustle of people popping in for a nice afternoon cake and cafe:

As I mentioned, we were starving, so we decided to have a sandwich first, and maybe think about a cake later.  This was the moment where things started to go a little bit pear shaped.  Why?  Well, the sandwiches were made for, well, lilliputians I suppose.  An entire smoked salmon sandwich, no joke, was one slice of bread (that tiny bimbo bread) with one slice of salmon, and surprise egg underneath.  Check out the size of the slice of lemon below as a reference point.

Henrik ordered coffee and the pot that came with it was tiny, as was the glass of water I ordered.  It was pretty much a shot glass!  Fair enough I thought, maybe these Norwegians are really healthy and don't actually eat so much for lunch.  I should probably try to adapt to this custom, it might do me some good.  Then I saw the bill:

212 NOK, probably about 25e for two slices of bread with some food on them and a tiny pot of coffee!!!  The smoked salmon sandwich pictured above actually cost about 12e!!  NUTS.  I don't think I've ever eaten anywhere this expensive, and it wasn't even clear what we were paying for.  I mean, it wasn't as if some super chef was required to make the 'sandwiches', although maybe balancing all the tiny pieces of food on the tiny slice of bread is challenging.  I suppose the atmosphere was nice, but COME ON! Needless to say, we didn't hang around for cake.