Mundanities

I am late again on the next Local piece (I interviewed someone who works in a museum!) I haven’t finished writing it because I started doing a lot of work, and consuming most of my days with its tasks, along with moving places twice.

I’ve been overseas for almost eight weeks, with seven of those spent in Norway. Only, in that time, I didn’t end up going to Lofoten as I would have liked, or Bergen as I had planned. It got too expensive and I have been erring on the side of caution money-wise. Now I’m at the airport about to head to Alicante, Spain, and I feel oddly as though I am about to enter ‘holiday mode’, feeling that I haven’t been ‘in it’ (along with an awareness for how obsurd that may sound).

But now, I’m not sure if I really ever began this journey to be on holidays. I’m exploring a lot in places I’ve never been, nonetheless, but I haven’t done the backpacker thing this time – hauling that ever-trusty bag of mine from place to place twice a week, collapsing on another hostel bed after beers with strangers. Nope, that ship sailed a while back, and I gladly accept it.

But, still yet to see much of the Norwegian wildnerness (having only touched on a small but very exquisite part of it so far), one might think I’d be disappointed in my travel choices this time round. That one being me.

But really, many of the most special times have come from the simple things: mundanities, oddities, dare I say, domesticities. And of course the timing of it all has been perfect. There isn’t an ounce of disappointment.

I would like to share some of the ‘bigger’ moments, but for now, my mind is all caught up and easing – like a sun-soaked afternoon – into the smaller moments of joy I’ve had recently – some of which I know I wouldn’t have experienced if I didn’t leave home. And so, perhaps in these moments I have found ‘holiday mode’ after all. The ability to let one’s guard down and make room for the simple pleasures that so often pass us by unnoticed.

Black coffee.

How wonderful it is to have time in the mornings to enjoy the coffee-making process. Three scoops of freshly-ground beans into the plunger, and then waiting for it to brew as you prepare breakfast – perhaps some soft-boiled eggs.

My ritual here has changed. No longer is the habit of buying an almond latte with work colleagues each morning a thing.

I have come to relish the stronger taste of homemade black coffee, and can’t imagine why a latte ever tasted so good. Of course, it’s partly the slow routine itself that I enjoy.

The night sky.

I can only speak for the summertime sky for now, but the colours tend to lull me into daydreams each night. Pinks, purples, oranges, blues, whipped with lashings of creamy cloud.

Walking almost everywhere.

Exploring on foot is generally the way I enjoy new places best. And no matter where you’re walking to, or how far, it’s likely you’ll be graced with a park or two, teeming with summer flowers.

Euro accents.

So gentle to the ear.

Different waters.

Diving into the Norwegian sea has made me nervous more than once. The colour is a deep, dark green, and so wide open, unable to see to the bottom, my mind conjures up images of non-existent sharks and whales right by the shoreline. I think back to my childhood, swimming in rivers and lakes and the ocean of the Northern Territory, and the warning to be cautious in open water because there may be crocodiles.

Nevertheless, each time I jump in it’s so refreshing if the day is warm, and I’ve been lucky to have many very warm days.

On my last morning in Oslo, I made a deal with myself to dive into the sea at Aker Brygge without hesitation, and to float for ten breaths without fearing the unknown below. This was undoubtedly a metaphor for my headpace in general. Staring into the noon sky, sharp breaths on account of the chill, I was able to succumb to the unknowns below, and the ones ahead of me.

Norwegian cheese (and the trusty slicer).

The mildness of the cheese, coupled with the ease of the slicer – delicious genius!

Reading and writing more.

I have ‘having more time’ to thank for these pleasures. Often made even more delectable under the shade of a tree, or by a window with golden afternoon light and a cup of chai.

And then, in the many pauses or times of solitude I’ve had…

…like those times brewing coffee, wandering to an undiscovered location, or in between devouring scrumptious passages of a book, there is the soft, steady realisation that I love someone who loves me in return.

Or the slow understanding that Oslo feels like a place I could (and would like to) call home for a while.

And the clarity of mind and body that one has (often all too briefly) to comfortably exist all at once in the present; emboldened and most certainly alive.

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Local | Jøran Nordbakken | Oslo

I’m writing this one overdue, as I’ve been exploring London. I caught up with Jøran last week in Oslo, when we took a stroll around the city and sat in the sunshine to the point of mild sunburn (my first since being here, where the sun has been hot, but just doesn’t seem to have that Aussie bite to it).

While he’s now local to Oslo, we talked a lot more about his home town, and about the education system in Norway, which is pretty impressive.

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Jøran is from Lofoten – a place I (and many others) are dying to go, because well, it looks stunning. To Jøran, it’s what he grew up knowing as normal – quiet, quaint townships peppered with rustic fisherman’s cottages, amidst walking treks and snowcapped mountains, where you can snowboard alongside the Northern Lights.

Tell me about home (and those Northern Lights)…

“I was born and raised in a town called Leknes. The entire population of the archipelago is about 26,000, so it’s small, and I grew up in nature, with a lot of freedom and a close-knit family.”

“We’d ride wherever we wanted and it always felt safe. On the weekend, we’d go to our cabin, or I’d rent DVD’s with friends or go hiking or to the beach.”

Jøran has seen the Northern Lights more times than he can remember. 

“As long as there’s a clear sky you can usually see the Northern Lights. I’ve seen it in all the colours of the rainbow, sometimes when I’ve been snowboarding down a mountain.”

I’m being naive of course, but a part of me honestly thought the only people sliding down snowy mountains by the Northern lights must be extreme sportspeople or National Geographic photographers. Alas, I was wrong.

 

But Jøran has come to realise that his home town feels a little mystical and faraway to many others who’ve never experienced anything like the Norwegian north.

“That’s something I’ve noticed the more I’ve travelled – I have a new appreciation for where I’m from and understand that it is unique.”

So, coming from this wonderland, how does Oslo compare?

“I love it. Living in Oslo, I have access to more stuff. I can go climbing with friends, go to the cinema and then have sushi in one day. And now when it’s sunny we can jump on a communal boat and go out to one of the islands.”

“But I go back home at least once a year. A lot of my family is still there, including my nephews, so I feel I should go back, and I want to.”

Tell me about the education system in Norway?

Jøran is a teacher, but unlike Australian schools (and no doubt schools in many other places) he gets to keep much of that outdoorsy life he grew up with in his day-to-day routine.

“I work in an alternative school, so two days a week we do something outside the classroom. For example, Mondays and Wednesday, we have practical work, but then we adapt the curriculum to include other activities such as outdoor play, learning about sustainability.”

“So we might take a walk in the woods and do some work to improve the area. But I also have kids that like to go out on their breaks to just chop wood. Sometimes this sort of thing is great if they have lots of energy, or might be annoyed about something – it’s totally okay to go outside and take a walk to expend that energy.

“This can be especially great for kids who are struggling with the ‘typical’ school day stuff – they get a space to be themselves and nobody is going to question or ridicule them.”

As with work, the school day is generally an hour shorter in Norway than many other countries. It’s also common, regardless of the weather (which, I’m coming to know and love as a very ‘Norwegian’ viewpoint), for classes to take half-day field trips regularly – learning about the outdoors while actually engaging with it. Makes sense.

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What else is different about the Norwegian school system?

Jøran also lived and studied in the US for a year, so he’s made some keen comparative observations.

“Something else we do well is put more emphasis on critical thinking over memorisation. Especially in 2018 – you can Google anything, but you need to be critical of your sources.”

“As teachers, I like that we focus on increasing our understanding of what works for students now, to prepare them for the future, instead of just doing what we may have always done.

“Sometimes it’s best to teach more about the process and strategy of problem solving. It’s important to ask how a student arrived at an answer and why they took that path. For example, we’ll give you points for the process – because even if you get the wrong answer, you still may do everything else right and show you understand.

“I think this approach helps to create a more well-rounded person…who can discuss, reflect, or question the way things are.”

He highlights something he thought US schools did ‘better’ than in Norway though.

“If you want to study chemistry, they have the same class three times a day – so you can combine your schedule more creatively.”

“In Norway, you don’t have the option to study Spanish, German and French, because they all run at the same time. So in that way, it’s less flexible.”

It still sounds like the Norwegians have a system that’s miles ahead of others. I found this piece written by a mother of a child who attends school in Oslo for six months, before returning to native Minnesota, which corroborates much of what Jøran had to say.

After this conversation, I’m wondering how different I might be if I’d attended school in Norway.

Sophie | a moment in time

She always felt Hyde Park was too big. There were parts of it, as she wandered away from the River Thames, that sprawled too far around her without dark, leafy cover, which she preferred. Those parts were like deserts – flat and hot, glary. She never understood why people chose to sit in those parts, chatting, picnicking, reading, in a dry, exposed space.

Yet when Sophie found a tree to perch under, she could read for hours under its shade, watching people pass by. Then, the bigger the tree the better. She’d suddenly feel small in its embrace, and that was comforting. It made her step out of herself and up, far up, where she could see the entirety of the park’s current inhabitants going about their strolls, lunch breaks, sunbathing and exercise sessions, as small as ants.

She’d see herself – a tiny speck – below the canopy of that tree, and be reminded of how many times over she was enveloped in the layers of London, about the beautiful multiplicity of life and emotion taking place around her. She was a minute part of an ever breathing, living, growing, changing organ, vital to, on a bigger scale, the flux and flow of the rest of the country, the world, evermore connected.

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Local | Helene Arnesen | Oslo

Today began with an early breakfast for a birthday – coffee, croissants and chia pudding at Kaffe Brenneriet, before catching up with Helene Arnesen of Fabel Vintage, for my first Local interview in Oslo. Fabel is a vintagebutikk in Oslo’s St. Hanshaugen. I then strolled on to Torggata, where I discovered Peloton – which I sought for wifi, but which also has tasty, sizeable salads – to write about Helene’s view of Oslo.

Helene is from Kristiansund – where it’s wetter and rains more than Oslo, she tells me. She went to university in London, spending almost five years there, before returning home, this time to call Oslo home.

While in London, she studied a bachelor of costume design and worked in film and costume doing fourteen-hour days. We talk about the difference in work culture between Norway and England as she recalls the work ethic there – “you don’t go home until the boss goes home” – compared to Norway’s shorter typical working-day (Norwegian’s are oh-so efficient, getting work done and getting out the door on time).

She opened Fabel in February 2018, which is just a stroll down from her home – a change that seems very welcome after the bustle of London life.

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When did your love of vintage begin?

“I was always into vintage stuff. Back when it wasn’t so socially acceptable fifteen years ago, I was the weird kid who was into it. I remember a friend’s mother looking at me so puzzled one day after I’d purchased some items. She asked why I was shopping at a charity store when I didn’t need to be, but that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t about being affordable.”

“Then I learnt that costume design was a thing and decided I wanted to do that.”

London also happens to be a great place to cultivate a love of vintage.

“If you have the time to look you can really find amazing and affordable stuff too.”

What’s the vintage scene like in Olso now?

Oslo’s vintage scene is still in its infancy compared to London. Helene recalls the first good quality vintage store opening in Oslo only ten years ago – Diana Salonger.

“Before that it was much more of a thrift shop scene, which is great, but you have to really look for a good vintage piece in thrift stores. It’s a different experience.”

Fabel is quaint, garments expertly organised in like-colour groups with pops of retro-pattern, and some more recent, prized statement pieces hanging artfully on the walls. There are also some stunning racks of Japanese kimonos I’d love to take home. It’s firmly part of the up and coming vintage scene in Oslo, and staking a new claim in a lesser-known location for vintage-shoppers. On the contrary to Grünnerløkka’s unvarnished aesthetic (where most of the vintage stores are in Oslo), St. Hanshaugen is a little cosier, budding with sweet corner cafes, artsy bookstores and a sprawling green park.

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What else do you do when you’re not running Fabel?

“I am a knitwear designer. I started knitting about five years ago and never found any patterns I really liked for myself so I started designing vintage-inspired knitwear.”

Helene sells some of her hand-knitted items in store, and you can buy her patterns online to make your own.

What’s the best place for coffee in Olso?

Turns out, Helene is more of a tea drinker, and the best place for that is at home, she says (and I’d agree).

“But the best hot chocolate is from Kaffe Brenneriet if you have it on soy milk.”

“Friends and family say the best coffee – especially if you want to have an experience – is Hotel Bristol. It’s beautiful. It’s been redecorated and has had a few write-ups in the paper about how good the coffee and afternoon tea is.”

Helene tells me her mum (avid coffee drinker) recommends Tim Wendelboe coffee, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen or heard about Tim. Aside from the head coffee roastery, espresso bar and training facility, he’s served in quite a few cafes around Oslo.

She also highlights Taylor&Jøran, which sparks my interest at doughnuts and coffee, and intrigues me further when I hear the duo behind it is half Australian. While doughnuts might have had their time in the spotlight back home in Australia, the trend might just be just taking off in Oslo. These folks roast and ship your coffee to you weekly (fancy) and their selection of doughnuts changes frequently. Also, reading about Taylor’s story, I’m just a wee bit impressed!

What about drinks? 

Fuglen (the bird) does great cocktails, and they’re decked out in a sort of Scandinavian retro style.”

“There’s a place called Kuba I like to go down near Vulcan, which is more my scene as I usually drink beer. In summertime, they have a lovely outdoor area there.”

She also mentions a bar that’s opening soon in Torshov called Albatross – which is the next venture for a duo who already own a successful bar in another part of town – and Crow Bar in Torggata. Crow Bar has it’s own brewery and “surprisingly good home-style kebabs.”

We  talk about a new wine bar I discovered in St. Hanshaugen too – Merkur Bar, which specialises in naturlig vin (natural wine) and spontanfermentert sake (spontaneously fermented sake).  This one is pretty intimate and the drinks go down easy (though not so easy on the wallet).

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St. Hanshaugen park

What’s something a local wouldn’t know?

“You can walk pretty much anywhere. I have a bike and sometimes use the bus, but Oslo is small and easy to get around on foot – usually it’s quite a pleasant walk too.”

“I also think some people don’t know how easy it is to get out to one of the many islands. I’d just make sure you go to the ferry terminal early, before 10am, so that you don’t get caught in a huge line to get out to the them.”

Any tips for Olso on a budget?

“I’d check out the Munchmuseet. It’s brilliant. They usually have exhibits of his work compared to another artist.”

Bygdøy is also nice, and close by – just catch a bus. There’s beaches there and cliffs you can jump off, and lots of lovely walks or bike riding trails to take.

“While you’re there, check out the Norsk Folkemuseum too, I love it there. It’s a massive park where they’ve moved all these houses from different places and eras and created a town that takes you back in time.”

Helene suggests wearing comfortable walking shoes if you take this trip – which is advice I find to be applicable for Oslo as a whole – getting around on foot (or perhaps on an Olso bike, another cheap option for transport) is one of the best ways to explore a new city. You often stumble on the best and most unexpected places this way.

Front facade art: Oslo

I’m a sucker for window plants, good light and wall art. (Hence, #frontfacadeart on Instagram and now, here – ‘cos why not?).

Oslo’s architecture hasn’t disappointed so far – a little Paris-esque to my eye, but with more colour. When locals aren’t soaking in the summer sun in the nearest park or waterhole, they’re bound to be lazing in its rays on their sweetly-decked-out apartment balconies.

Bicycle

Afternoon green

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Opera House

Grunnerlokka

Aker Brygge

Walking, Majorstuen

Near St Hanshaugen

 

More bliss and jitters: starting fresh | Norway

Quitting my job and moving to the other side of the world is already opening my eyes to many new traditions and ways of living, but more than that, it’s showing me a thing or two about myself.

I’m not very good at doing nothing – relaxing or taking a break because I can and have afforded myself the time to do so. I tend only to have alone time or rest when I feel exhausted. This is not ideal.

It’s been one week since I’ve been in Norway and among all the things I’ve experienced – beautiful walks with stunning views, carefree conversations in the sunshine with strangers, grand buildings, intimacy after such a long time apart – one of the overriding thoughts I’ve had is that “I’m not being very productive, I’m not doing anything of value.”

But first, here’s some things I’m loving about Norway so far:

  • The greenery, obviously. Norwegians have an abundance of leafy, parky, forest-y goodness in all directions. Aside from the fresh spring air that fills you up and the crunching of twigs beneath your feet, I love the relationship Norwegians have to nature. They respect it in a way I don’t feel we do back in Australia (don’t get me wrong, we love the outdoors too). But we have so many rules about how, when and where we can engage with it – and that’s often at a price. Here, the rule of thumb is, camp anywhere you like freely (unless it’s private property), light a campfire, embrace the evening sky and heck, bring your animals too. Soak it all in…but just leave it as you came. Makes sense.
  • The park is a beach. It’s quite a spectacle when the sun is out, to see countless half-naked people take to any patch of sun to bake for (possibly) hours and hours. Norwegian sun doesn’t have the same searing, fiery, will-burn-you-in-20 quality as Queensland sun, and after long, dark winters, it’s the norm to strip to your underwear or pull up / down clothing wherever you can to get that warm goodness on your body. I’ve embraced this one quite naturally of course.
  • Salmon, and all foods involving it. I don’t know, it just tastes better.
  • The language. I’m yet to grasp it well at all, but it sure sounds lovely and quite upbeat. Yesterday I ordered a falafel in part-Norsk-part-English. “Kan jeg har en falafel i pita, please”. I tried and will keep doing so.
  • The fashion. So much chill. So much loose, long, cosy fabric and natural materials that look effortless and just downright cool. And generally with sneakers – no matter what, it goes with sneakers. I like this a lot and no longer care for sandals, huh! (Although, sadly, I do want Birkies again and won’t be buying them here as they come in around $200 AUD for some reason).
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Sognsvann lake, Oslo.

So, on that thought of lack of value, lack of substance…on the contrary to the above, it’s not just in the sense of ‘work’, but in terms of exploring (sounds silly, right). I’m rushing myself, planning weeks ahead, even though I’ve saved and prepared for a time where I don’t need to do this; where I can step out into the day without a plan, void of routine. I’ve been worrying about making friends, about spending too much money, about a bunch of upcoming unknowns.

I’m baffled that I feel this way so suddenly. You could argue it’s quite normal given the recent changes in my life, but I can’t say I saw it coming.

It’s quite funny that we can crave something new or different, yet when we finally allow ourselves to get there, we often feel frozen by the same old expectations that kept us right where we were – money, certainty, security.

So if you’re about to embark on a big journey away from home, some long-term travel, or a leap of faith of sorts, I guess it’s worth reminding yourself that you might be faced with the urge to turn around and go back to safety.

But I’ve got a hunch this will all simmer down – so remember that too. Remind yourself that you’ve arrived where you are because you wanted it, because you need it. And most of all, because it’s the right time.

I was reading the ever-insightful-at-the-right-moment Clarissa Pinkola Estés in St. Hanshaugen park yesterday, about taking the time to do what it is you feel called to do, no excuses…

“…we all have favourite methods of talking ourselves out of taking the time to go home; yet when we retrieve our instinctive and wildish cycles, we are under a psychic obligation to arrange our lives so that we can live them more and more in accordance. Arguments about the rightness versus the wrongness of leave-taking in order to return home are useless. The simple truth is that when it’s time, it’s time.”

Signs

About two years ago I was nonchalantly sipping on this latte in Brooklyn.

Today, this photo reminder is one of quite a few signs I’ve had in the past year that travelling to Oslo, Norway (in transit now!) is the darn best thing I could do, and an adventure I’ve been wanting to embark on since I was finishing high school.

I may have had a glass of wine on a fairly empty stomach as I wait to board my flight to LDN from Perth, ✈️ but I really reckon the universe has got my back. She’s giving me a subtle, but reassuring wink, 😉 that shit’s about to get real, in the best possible way.

Despite quite a few tears and some tense moments in the lead up to boarding the new, infamous 17 hours (and 20 minutes) flight, when Monday morning rolled around I felt a sense of calm come over me. I soaked in some of the last Sunshine Coast sunshine I’d feel in a while. Waves reflected its white light and took away with them any last questions or uncertainties rattling around in my mind.

(I also did a spontaneous card reading Monday morning, that said: “you’re being called to do something that feels overwhelming, but be assured that you have the courage and tenacity to handle it.”).

I honestly haven’t even thought about work (or that I’m currently unemployed by choice) or worried about money. Really, I’ve just organised my life into a big suitcase (5 kilos under max, ever the light packer), and 6.8kg of carry-on luggage.

I literally feel lighter in life without all my stuff, and with less obligation or responsibility for a while. How good it is for the soul!

Other than that, I’ve spent a fair bit of time catching up with friends and family, and a fair bit more time pondering on how wonderful they are. I’m also incredibly grateful for the outpouring of lovely words so many have offered – some of which I’m taking with me as keepsakes or wall decoration !

Here’s to more adventure, great humans and serendipitous moments.