The driving test

You know how when you’re 16 and learning to drive and preparing for your driver’s road test, and you just can’t wait to get it because then a) you can drive your friends around; and b) you won’t have to ever take a driving test again (until you’re 80, and who ever thinks about being 80)?

Sometimes being a passenger is just fine. Snapshot from a southern Iceland road

Sometimes being a passenger is just fine. Snapshot from a southern Iceland road

Now, imagine that another 16 years have passed since you obtained your driver’s license, and someone so casually tells you that you have to go through the process again. In a manual transmission car, in the winter in a country where salt is virtually non-existent (good for shoes, bad for balance). The icing on the cake is that you don’t have a car to practice in, and are unsure of whether you would ever bother buying one. Oh yeah, and each in-car lesson costs over $200 for 90 minutes.

Why all of this context, you ask? Why bother? Who cares, right? Isn’t a Canadian driver’s license good enough to transfer to Norway? Not exactly. As you may have guessed, this is the situation I’m facing right now. I have mulled these questions a few times over, weighing the cost/benefits, and trying to decide if it’s worth the investment in lessons and an exam.

Here is what I learned: As a licensed Canadian driver, I got exactly 12 months and 12 weeks to do a “license transfer” driving exam since my stated arrival date (January 19, 2013). After that time, I would have to take a night driving course, a snow driving course, and a first aid course before taking the road test (each course would cost upwards from $500). After another year (read: 2 years and 12 weeks), I would have to do the entire driving course that a Norwegian teenager would have to do – involving various types of driving, safety and multiple tests. And that process costs between $6000 and $8000.

I’m going to interrupt my own train of thought here to add that the Viking had a similar experience when he went to buy a car and become licensed to drive in Canada. His intensive Norwegian training did absolutely nothing to reduce his insurance costs (his rate, at age 28, was the same as that of a 16-year-old male), or help his cause. He had to suck it up and take a road test, in both Ontario and Nova Scotia, and pay through the nose to insure our old, broken Mazda Protegé (well, until I was named as the primary driver).

Trusty old "Sandy" the Mazda: I guess it is worth having access to wheels

Trusty old “Sandy” the Mazda: I guess it is good to have access to wheels

So you can see how, just in case I ever want to drive here, or rent a car elsewhere, or let my Ontario license expire, I might as well just do the test. But the manual transmission is still a dilemma. Oddly (in my opinion), Norway administers a different license to those who only drive automatic vehicles vs. those who drive standard. And automatic cars are not common.

Winter driving in Norway: all kinds of fun (photo courtesy of MINA online)

Winter driving in Norway: all kinds of fun (photo courtesy of MINA online)

After a couple of lessons in a manual 5-series BMW (driving instructors and cab drivers get huge tax breaks on vehicles if they need them for work), I realized that by the time I’m comfortable driving around a slushy, hilly city, that I could have done my “easy” road test in an automatic car and be done with it. So I signed up for an automatic road test. I bought the driver’s handbook (available in English, of course), and am anxiously awaiting next Tuesday morning for my test. The snow has melted, and there is nothing in the forecast. I scheduled it for the suburban driving centre (an old trick I learned from my 16-year-old self), and I hope I pass. Again.

And I’m not even 80.

Flashback: my crush on Warsaw

Don’t tell the Viking. It’s getting a bit serious, to the point where all I want is to go back there and see it all again. I have this crush on Warsaw: with all the pierogi, the kielbassa, the pastries and the cheap, cheap beers. It started back in August, when I just had to take advantage of cheap midweek flights, because I had a) a friend to go with (thanks Julie!); and b) no job.

Old town square in Warsaw

Old town square in Warsaw

I’m going to go ahead and say this, too: though I know quite a few people who have visited Poland, I think it’s still greatly overlooked as a tourist destination. With ridiculously reasonable prices, and really interesting and historic cities, I’m kind of sad for Poland for missing out on the mainstream crowds. But also secretly so happy that I didn’t have to battle through other tourists in the streets, eat overpriced foods, and wait in massive lineups everywhere.

Some very old, some new, some in that bitter in-between place...

Some very old, some new, some in that bitter in-between place…

The first selling point on my crush is the history. I’m a bit of a nerd with this, and will openly admit that being able to see evidence of history (especially outside of a museum) gives me goosebumps. I had that feeling every five minutes in Warsaw, with crumbling red brick buildings (remnants of the Warsaw ghetto), horrible grey plaster buildings (thank you, Soviet influence), and modern, overly flashy glass buildings (you’re free!). The old town has been restored to look like its majestic pre-war-self, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The odd part is seeing extremely old buildings with “1957” painted across the top where it would normally say something more like “1778.”

Some of the more "historic" buildings (photo cred: Julie Hahn)

Some of the more “historic” buildings (photo: J. Hahn)

Then there were the people. Growing up in Toronto, and having Polish friends, and even some Polish heritage myself, I always thought that I knew something about the culture. I don’t know what I was expecting, but we happened to be in Warsaw on August 17 – a national holiday (I think it was a military day, but cannot find anything on wikipedia). Everyone was so proud, so stoic, so united. The fact that almost everyone in this country had been through some really serious political challenges in their lifetime made for a truly respectful celebration.

The military parade (photo: J. Hahn)

The military parade (photo: J. Hahn)

My other big crush on Poland happened from the first bite…of pierog. The sweet Russian cheese filling, the spinach-potato filled, or the pork-filled ones all made me feel so, so good. Add on a plate of sausages, and there I was, in flavour country. The prices of meals in restaurants were extremely refreshing: $15CAD for a beer and a full meal. Maybe Norwegian prices have shifted my perception of “cheap,” but I’m pretty sure you’d be hard-pressed to find anything so good and so filling for the same price – anywhere.

Are you kidding me?! Heavenly little dumplings...

Are you kidding me?! Check out those heavenly little dumplings…

And there you have it: a place to visit with a fascinating history, amazing hosts, and culinary experiences that make you feel like you’re at Grandma’s house (well, mine, anyway).

What's that? A latke filled with meaty goulash? Yes please.

What’s that? A latke filled with meaty goulash? Yes please.

Now I just happen to be heading to Warsaw next week for work. I’m sure late-November Poland might be a little greyer and darker than the mid-August version, but I have convinced the Viking to join me for next weekend, so he can join me in having a crush on Warsaw.

And what would a trip to Poland be without sampling some of the world's finest vodkas? Excellent...

And what would a trip to Poland be without sampling some of the world’s finest vodkas? Excellent…

One year later…

I KNOW! It’s already been a whole year since we packed up and moved out. The wet leaves and short days are becoming strangely familiar, and it’s helped me to sit back and reflect on the most important things I’ve learned about life in Norway. And because I like photos and I don’t have relevant ones, there will be a collection from the past 12 months.

A now-familiar bridge over Akerselva: this was from one of my first exploratory runs

A now-familiar bridge over Akerselva: this was from one of my first exploratory runs

Are you ready for it? Here we go…

1. Don’t apologize. In Oslo, people will crash into you on the street. And I don’t mean bumping elbows – I mean full-fledged body checks. At first, I was all “sorry, sorry, oh excuse me, sorry,” and now I’m pretty much over it. In fact, this morning on my way to work, when a woman was walking at me full speed without budging an inch from her path, and rather than step off the sidewalk into traffic (I’ve done this on many occasions), I didn’t budge either. Her bag walloped me in the arm and all I said was “ow.” Whoa.

A cold December afternoon: the lighting was ideal for capturing the Oslo opera house

A cold December afternoon: the lighting was ideal for capturing the Oslo opera house

2. It’s ok to be silent. This is one of the more profound things that I’ve learned about Norway. If there isn’t anything worth saying, the comment is generally (inhaled) “ya” or (normally) “ya da.” Being one who is generally uncomfortable in silence, it was hard to adjust to at first. And now I’m getting the hang of it. Just sitting quietly – being quasi-Norwegian.

December jaunt in the woods up in the Viking's home town

December jaunt in the woods up in the Viking’s home town

3. Fish is ok! It started with only white fish and so much seasoning on it that all I could taste was spice. And then it was the odd piece of cod or even salmon, grilled and seasoned without too much to completely change the flavour. And it only took 30 years and living in a maritime city to get it…

Because winter is beautiful in the Arctic: Tromsø harbour in February

Because winter is beautiful in the Arctic: Tromsø harbour in February

4. Spandex running tights are appropriate (almost) any time and any place. Man or woman, age irrelevant (most of the time), whether or not one is en route to the gym (although people do work out a LOT), Nike and Adidas running tights are the bottoms of choice. I’ve had a few conversations about it – with visiting friends, Norwegians, expats, and I think the collective reasoning is that they are the Norwegian response to yoga pants or sweatpants. Just tighter and shinier. To note: I can’t say that I am not guilty of sporting gym-worthy clothes in public every so often…comfort first!

The kind of thing that happens in Norway at night: northern lights

The kind of thing that happens in Norway at night: northern lights

5. I already mentioned the value of koselig and the importance of sunshine. Now that days are getting dark again, candles, a warm fireplace, and locating direct sunlight are top priority.

The first signs of summer? Paradis beach in March

The first signs of summer? Paradis beach in March

6. Making friends as an adult is odd. I suppose there are certain people who uproot and do this often, but it’s something that was pretty new to me Finding common experiences and relating to people as an “adult” is a real eye-opener.

The 17 of May: Norway's national day was colourful

The 17 of May: Norway’s national day was colourful

7.  It took me a whole year to notice that beer isn’t sold in pitchers in Oslo bars. Shocking, yes. I don’t even know how to explain it – but I realized it last week. Just thought I would point it out.

Enter spring: Nordmarka gets a green facelift

Enter spring: Nordmarka gets a green facelift

8. Finding a job in a foreign country is not as easy as I would have thought. There – I said it. Spending several months pondering the reasons why I was “unemployable” made me acutely aware of the importance of multilingualism, and helped me to spend a lot of time by myself – practicing my Norwegianness (thanks to my mom for the tip).

I'm a sucker for cool clouds: Oslo harbour on a stormy day

I’m a sucker for cool clouds: Oslo harbour on a stormy day

And there you have it: the key items that come to mind. There will be more, no doubt. I’ll add to the list in normal entries. Thanks for the reader support, and I hope you enjoyed the irrelevant photos!

And it all came to an end: fall arrived with a splash of colour

And it all came to an end: fall arrived with a splash of colour

Part-time dog

Maybe this situation is familiar to you? You are a pet-lover, for dogs in particular; you consider getting one, then reject the idea based on the fact that you like to go away on weekends, are not ready for the “commitment,” and would rather not give up the freedom to stay late at work (or go out straight from) should the need arise.

The Duncan family wonderdog: the basis for my love of border collie-crossbreeds

The Duncan family wonderdog: the reason for my love of border collie-crossbreeds

Do you see where I’m coming from? So far, our lifestyle in Norway hasn’t exactly lent itself to pet ownership. Until this week, that is. In perusing my favourite website (Finn.no), maybe looking at border collie puppies, in particular, I can across an ad for a “besøkeshjemme” (visiting home) for a four-year-old border collie named Sara.

What the..? Upon further investigation and a coffee with the owner, we learned that this isn’t such an uncommon practice in Norway. The owner happens to breed border collies (with other awesome dogs, like Portuguese water dogs!), and keeps four or five of them in various homes outside of Oslo. The two that she keeps at home (Sara and Tallula), she lends out to people who a) love dogs, and b) don’t want a full time commitment. It’s also very convenient for her when she needs to leave the city to have dog sitters on-call.

The Viking walking Talula, and Sara: two part-time hounds!

The Viking walking Talula, and Sara: two part-time hounds!

Enter the deltidshund (part time dog). She’s hanging out with us this week, just to see how she does. We took her for a jaunt up in Nordmarka on the weekend, and her subway-riding style involves big, sweet brown doggy eyes at just about everyone on the train. She basically sat waiting for people to give her some attention, and made sure that she looked as cuddly as possible.

Ever-so-slightly obsessed with sticks: Sara waits for the throw

Ever-so-slightly obsessed with sticks: Sara waits for the throw

So…I’m sold. This is the ultimate solution to urban pet ownership: dog for the weekend, or whenever we want her, and then we can just be our irresponsible selves the rest of the time. Perfect! And seriously: look at this face!!

The part-time dog looking for some love

The part-time dog looking for some love

The Viking’s big race

Early in the summer, one of the Viking’s colleagues remarked on his size. And not in a nice way. The comment was then backed by “I bet you a bottle of scotch that you can’t run a half marathon in less than two hours.” Game on.

Would you bet against this guy? I sure wouldn't!

Would you bet against this guy? I sure wouldn’t!

So, over the summer months, the Viking trained for his run by cycling everywhere and going to the gym. He exercised his grilling muscles, and made sure he was in top shape for the Oslo race weekend in September. Sadly, the race was sold out. Realizing that the 400NOK (app. $75CAD) entry fee would only have broken even on the cost of a half-decent bottle of scotch (probably not even single malt), the Viking decided to spearhead an ad hoc (read: free) race with his colleagues in October.

Even though this photo was post-run, these guys were used to this kind of meeting

Even though this photo was post-run, these guys were used to this kind of meeting

And so it was: with a two-woman support crew (including yours truly), a three-man water and emergency pick-up crew, and three racers, it was on. The Viking carefully mapped and tested the 21.1km route; using as many of Oslo’s bike paths as possible so as to minimize unplanned stops for traffic lights. As any project engineer would, he ensured that the entire team knew the route and was adequately prepared for race day. And then, on a frosty, 2-degree morning, they were off!

The Viking in action: kilometre 16 and still going strong

The Viking in action: kilometre 16 and still going strong

It was a gruelling run (well, I was cold following along on my bike), but the Viking finished in (drumroll…) 1:39:00 – well below the two-hour bet! The second place runner crossed the finish line in an amazing 1:51:00, and the last-minute add-in (he literally decided to run two days before) came in with a hugely respectable 2:10:00. Oddly enough, the third place runner was the one who had started the whole ordeal with comments on the Viking’s size. It was all deserving of a single-malt bottle, and a hearty lunch afterwards. The lesson we learned through it all? Don’t mock the Viking – he’s a lot faster than you’d think.

Nicely done, big guy. Nicely done indeed!

Nicely done, big guy. Nicely done indeed!