Thursday, April 27, 2006

Our Trip to Norway Part III: Bergen

Fjord Clouds

Could we go to Norway and not see the fjords? Sure, we got to visit Oslofjord, but it's not one of the spectacular ones. We decided to take the "Norway in a Nutshell" trip, which includes the train fare from Oslo to Bergen (6 hours), plus a scenic train route to Flam, a ferry in the fjord, and a bus ride to Voss. We woke up early in the morning and arrived at the Askar train station with 7 minutes to spare. My mother was really nervous, but the rest of us were pretty calm. I kept having flashbacks to last year, when I would leave my apartment and tear through the streets of Montpellier on my bicycle to catch the train to Lunel, where I worked. Once or twice I had to board the train without buying a ticket, and on one memorable occasion I had to take the bus to Lunel and run to the high school! So I wasn't worried. After 4 hours on the train, we arrived at a small Norwegian town and switched to a smaller, older train. It was beautiful inside, made of wood and upholstered with pretty fabric. We only spent about 45 minutes on the train when we arrived in the next town on the itinerary, where we switched from the train onto the ferry. For the next two hours we were treated to gorgeous fjord views, although the weather turned a bit rainy. Luckily it made our photos more spectacular.

Fjord Sunlight

Then we took a bus to Voss, the ugliest town I saw in Norway. Jube, my mom, and I stayed at the train station while my brother the Rooster hit the mean streets. He got to see a building be demolished ("that was the coolest part"). Then we got back on a train to go to Bergen. We arrived around 8 o'clock in the evening, and we walked to the hotel. I asked for directions to a restaurant mentioned in my guide where the serving staff dressed up in traditional Norwegian outfits and served Norwegian food. Unfortunately, after walking the streets of Bergen for about an hour and a half and asking at least 5 people, we couldn't find the restaurant! Instead, we ate at a Chinese restaurant.


The next day we woke up early to explore the city. We visited the fish market and the harbour before walking to the aquarium. We got to see the training of the seals and the feeding of the penguins! Jube and I both thought of the force-feeding of fois gras geese, because the tiny penguins swallowed huge fish whole. Afterwards, we took a cable car up the hill behind Bergen. The view from the top was incredible, but we were all really hungry so we didn't stay for long! After coming down, we ate at a small Norwegian restaurant where we ate traditional dishes like potato dumplings, reindeer steak, and pork chops with sweet cabbage. And before we knew it, it was time to catch the train back to Askar!

We only had one day left in Norway, so Jube and I made my uncle's family a tartiflette. Unfortunately none of his kids ate it, because the appearance turned them off. Everyone else loved it. And the next day it was time to leave! My mother and the Rooster left early in the morning for their trans-Atlantic flight. Jube and I had more time, so we went outside to play soccer with Ligne--and then, tragedy struck! Jube picked up the ball to throw it in, and I stupidly tried for a header. My glasses snapped! Ligne didn't think it was a big deal, but Jube and I were both pretty upset. (We fixed them with superglue the next day.) Then we went to the airport and said goodbye to Norway!

Or so we thought. Actually our plane was delayed by about two hours for "mechanical reasons" (the worst reasons of all!) and we arrived in Nice too late to catch the last municipal (read, inexpensive!) bus into the city. We opted for a taxi right to our doorstep, instead. We chose a BMW--oh la classe! And that was the true end to our Scandinavian adventure.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Our Trip to Norway Part II: Oslo

On Monday, still a holiday in Norway, we went to Vigelandsparken, which is a big park full of Vige's stone sculptures. They are all of naked men and women of all ages, from the smallest babies to the oldest people you can imagine. The only thing missing (as my mother pointed out) is a pregnant woman. It's really impressive--all of the sculptures are life-sized (or maybe just a little bit larger), with a huge obelisk in the center made of hundreds of human bodies. Nearby is a bridge that is decorated with more of Vige's human sculptures, this time in bronze. It is beautiful.

Before Vigelandsparken, we had gone to the Oslo olympic ski jump. We paid 70 Kroner to go to the top. You could take an elevator, but not all the way up! I am completely out of shape, and instead of spending the first two minutes enjoying the amazing view of Oslo, I huffed and puffed and leaned on Jube. I never realized how high ski jumps are! I would be really scared if I were an olympic competitor (although I don't really think I could be, with my legs that hurt just from climbing the jump...). It was very cool.

That evening we ate dinner with my aunt's family. [Aside: One of the things that amazed me about Norway was that everyone spoke English. The man at the newspaper kiosk: perfect English directions to the train station. The waitress in the Chinese restaurant: perfect English explanation of the weird shellfish in my mother's dish. The girl in traditional Norwegian dress: perfect English explaining how to get to a certain bar with a unicorn on the sign where they would explain how to reach a restaurant. I have to admit, I'm glad that France isn't like Norway. I never would have learned French if everyone spoke English! It was nice watching CSI in English, though. Jube was surprised at the differences between the French and American versions; in French, the cops all sound really intellectual, whereas in English they sound more like "cops." Unfortunately, the episode we saw was a 2 parter. I want to know the end!!] Her family was really nice, and we talked about how much to tip waiters in restaurants and that the tips were shared between the cooks and the waiters in Norway.

The next day we went to explore Oslo on our own. We first headed to the Folk Museum, where we saw tons of authentic traditional Norwegian houses, including a gorgeous wooden church. It was really interesting to see how the architecture changed according to the region of the country. After that, we went to the Viking Ship Museum. It was pretty small, with only 2 Viking ships, but really gorgeous. The ships were beautifully presented and the explanations were interesting. Did you know that the only intact Viking ships were those that were used in burial ceremonies? The rich Vikings buried in their ships also took horses and servants along with them. They didn't explain if the horses and servants were alive when the ships were buried. I hope not!

After the museums, we took a ferry to the city center. We went to the National Gallery and were able to see "The Scream" (which is called "Shrik" in Norwegian--much cooler!) and lots of other famous paintings. You may remember that "The Scream" was recently stolen, and it looks the worse for wear. It looks just like a bird pooped on it! (Honestly, I don't know if that's a new stain or not. It did look kind of suspicious, though.)

Stay tuned for the next offering: Bergen and the fjords!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Our Trip to Norway Part I: Askar

Oslo Clock

As you may remember from an earlier post, Jube and I were in Norway last week. That's why I didn't post--I was out having Nordic fun! When we arrived at the airport, my uncle and favorite little cousin, Ligne, were waiting to meet us. As soon as we reached their house, I saw more of my family. My little boy cousins were jumping up and down on my little brother, and my mother was laughing with my Norwegian aunt. We were all very happy to see each other, and the kids received their full Easter eggs a day early to celebrate our arrival. They chowed down on their chocolate, Kinder eggs, and traditional Norwegian gummy men before tempting Jube outside for a snowball fight.

My little brother, whom Ligne named "Rooster" for his new mowhawk, refused to wear a coat for most of the trip. He did put on one glove as a concession to the snow on this occasion. The older kids ran around, throwing snowballs and laughing hysterically, while the smallest made snowballs and handed them to Jube, explaining things in Norwegian. Two neighborhood kids even joined in the battle, although they seemed surprised when Jube shouted things to them in English.

Oslofjord at Night

When we went inside, it was time to dye eggs! My mother had brought the kits from America, and the Norwegians provided watercolors, so we made masterpieces depicting eggs, bunnies, and one inspired alien. That evening we took a walk to the local branch of Oslofjord, where the kids showed us their favorite summer beaches and diving platforms. We tempted ducks with stale bread and listened to the Norwegian A-B-C song about 5 times. Then we ate dinner and headed to bed to prepare for the next day.

We woke up late on Sunday and had a huge Norwegian breakfast/lunch, consisting of sweet brown goat's cheese, caviar, roast beef, pate, salted lamb, shrimp salad, and Easter eggs (in any combination) on bread. Then we relaxed and hid the eggs for the kids to find, which they did about 5 separate times (once hidden by the Easter bunny, once by their father, and then once by each child). Afterwards we went to the Sonja Henie modern art museum, where we saw pictures by Picasso and Matisse, as well as an ultra post-modern exposition from a Norwegian artist that left most of us cold--except for the youngest cousin, who ran around the huge exposition hall and climbed on one of the smaller artworks that was exposed on the ground. That night we ate kebabs, and prepared for another day of sightseeing.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bon Anniversaire!

Yesterday, Jube and I celebrated because it was our anniversary! Hooray for us!

The best part about anniversaries is that they give us an excuse to go out for dinner. I chose the Mexican restaurant. We were driving into town, ready to turn onto Avenue Gambetta, when he suddenly turned to me and said, "Gem, I really don't want to eat Mexican food. We already went to that restaurant twice, and I don't like those beans they have." This was funny because he had just convinced me that he really wanted me to choose the restaurant, and that he really didn't mind going "a little crazy" at Poco Loco (that's the name of the restaurant, hilarious, eh?).

Instead, we headed to a "creole" restaurant--more specifically, r
éunionnais. I had the porc cocolombo, Jube chose the fricassée de crevettes, and we shared a selection of appetizers. The ironic part of the meal was that it was served with the same beans you get at the Mexican restaurant! We finished with desserts, gâteau aux patates douces for me and tarte coco for Jube. He was pretty jealous of mine, since it was made with rum and didn't actually taste like sweet potatoes at all.

And then, how did we finish off this amazing anniversary? We went home and fell right asleep, because we were really tired. Why so tired? At 5:00 that morning, Jube sat straight up in bed and said, "Oh no, il faut faire mes voeux!" [I have to make my wishes!] Kind of weird, eh? He had to request his job placement for next year, in case he can't come to the US, and they were due on the 13th at 8:00am. Why he couldn't have waited until we woke up at 7:00am to do it, I'm not sure, but he was woken from a deep sleep with the urge to do it at that very second. He did, and we were tired for the rest of the day.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Um, Like

Three weeks ago, when I was in the US, I attended the recruiting weekend of a large Virginia university. Since I attended Wittenberg University, a small, liberal arts institution in Springfield, Ohio, I was unprepared for the size of the student union. I knew in which rooms the weekend program would take place--but how to find them in such a huge building?

My mom and I headed to the information desk. (Yes, my mother came with me. A lot of the other prospective students thought this was a little weird--a mother at a GRADUATE recruiting weekend?--but I wasn't going to drive to an unknown city alone and forgo the chance to spend the time with my mommy!) "Excuse me, can you tell me where the spring recruiting weekend is?" I asked.

"Umm... I haven't heard anything about that," the girl said. She looked like she was about 16 years old. "Nikki, can you help these people?"

Nikki turned to us. "What's up?" she asked. She was dressed in sweats with the university's logo and chomping on some chewing gum.

"We're looking for the spring recruiting weekend," I said.

"Umm, does that have, like, something to do with graduation?" she asked.

"No," I said, "It's for graduate school."

"Ohh, yeah, that's it. Down the hall and to your right," she told us, pointing with her pencil.

As soon as we were out of sight, we burst into laughter. Moving back might be a shock...

Sunday, April 09, 2006


In less than a week, Jube and I will be going to Norway. It was a Christmas present from my mother, who will be meeting us there with my crazy little mohawked brother.

I've been looking forward to this trip for a long time, and I can't wait to go!
Belle-maman's dream has always been to go to a Scandinavian country, so she was going to come too. Unfortunately, Pépé, her father, who has been ill for a long time, was just hospitalized. She called us last week to tell us to cancel her ticket. So now, I'm feeling rather ambivalent about the trip. I can't wait to see my family (not only are my mother and brother coming, we'll be staying with my uncle and aunt who live in Oslo), but I know how much Belle-maman had wanted to be able to go. She had her first passport made and had already changed her Euros into Norwegian Kroner.

I've also been feeling guilty for awhile for wanting to go back to the US and bring Jube with me. I know how much le Pacha and his parents will miss him, and I feel like I haven't given him the choice to say no. He assures me that he wants to come, too, but I still worry. I feel like I've managed to adapt relatively easily to French life, and because of that, I should look for a permanent job here instead of continuing my education in the US--and expecting Jube to leave his secure job as a civil servant to take up something like substitute teaching or data entry in Virginia.

I am still somewhat optimistic about the future, but it worries me a lot.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Lazy Sunday

Sunday was one of the best days I've had in awhile. I put on my new shirt from Zara, a cute skirt, and headed to the market. At first, Jube and I couldn't find a parking space. Finally we parked in front of the Monument aux Morts, around the corner from the harbour. No, it wasn't a legal parking space, but we figured that since there were already about 10 people parked there and that it was a Sunday, we wouldn't get a fine. We were right!

However, parking at the Monument aux Morts meant that it was a "little trot" to the center of town. Since the day was nice and we walked by the sea, it was no problem. On the way, we saw tons of people on the beach sunbathing. I mean, yes, it was a nice day, and definitely sunny, but neither Jube nor I would have wanted to lie on the pebbly beach in a bikini--much less in a thong like Naked Butt Boy. Actually, he wasn't really a boy... he was more like a grandfather. Here are some pics for you--you have to click on them to really see his tanned naked butt.

Naked Butt Boy! Naked Butt Boy Walks!

We also saw some dogs diving in the water after pebbles. They were really cute, but both had amazingly loud barks. We then walked into the center of town, onto the Cours Saleya, where the market was winding down. We bought some cheap strawberries (4 Euros for 2 kilos) and then looked at the rest of the market. The market here is well known for its flowers, and I noticed that the new asparagus was being sold with daffodils:

bouquet of asparagus

We continued walking along the Promenade des Anglais into town, because I wanted to eat at a great Japanese restaurant that has pretty cheap menus at lunchtime. Unfortunately when we arrived, they had changed the cheap lunch menus to read "sauf le dimanche." No luck for us! So we hiked back to the Old Town, passing a chocolaterie on the way, where they were already displaying Easter eggs. Easter eggs aren't the same in France as they are in the US; here, they are pretty big eggs made of chocolate and then filled with little chocolates. You break open the egg and then eat the sweets inside. It can last for a few weeks, if you ration yourself (but most likely only lasts a few days, especially in the Gem/Jube/Belle-Famille tradition). This particular chocolaterie had the most expensive Easter eggs either of us had ever seen. Here's my arty picture of the most expensive:

expensive Easter egg

That's right--220 Euros! As I was taking my photo, a family walked behind us, checking the eggs out. The father exclaimed, "I would buy that egg and have it varnished! Bring it out every year at Easter! Never buy another Easter egg!"

We decided to eat at a restaurant where they served all-you-can-eat mussels and fries (for me) and pizzas (for Jube). We were completely stuffed afterwards, and walked back to the car. As we passed, we saw that Naked Butt Boy hadn't moved; he was still tanning his butt off with his family. We also saw a car commercial being filmed; it was for Mazda, and I took these pictures:

More Car Car Commercial

And then we went home and watched Video Gag before going to sleep early for work the next day.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Happy days are here again

About a month ago, I turned to Jube and said, "You know, I was pretty depressed earlier this year. I'm glad that I feel better now!"

He said, "I know you were depressed. It was pretty obvious."

This surprised me, because I always think that I do a good job of hiding disappointment and depression. I suppose that it must have been really glaring, though, when I think back on it. I refused to admit that Nice seemed like a pretty good place to live; I cried every weekend when I thought about going back to work on Monday; and I didn't feel like going anywhere, after work or on the weekend. Even when we were on vacation in Gallargues I managed to be depressed for about two days straight because I was not accepted to my first choice university.

Ohh, did I forget to mention to the blogging world that I was applying for a master's program? Well, when I didn't know if I was accepted, I didn't want to jinx it. After I was cut, I didn't want to talk about it because it was pretty painful. But now, I have lots of good news for the future, and thinking that one university didn't want me doesn't make me feel (very) bad anymore, especially since my last choice school has turned out to have a really great program and I don't know why I didn't apply there in the first place. I recently received an e-mail welcoming me to their program. I am also going to be a senior staff member at a summer camp here in Nice. Everything seems to be shaping up well.

Maybe you, my readers, were able to notice my depression, too. I'm here to tell you that I'm feeling lots better. Helping out is the wonderful daylight saving time I found on my return to France. Here in Nice, it doesn't get dark until about 8:00pm (and I'm sure you've heard the rumours of the perpetually sunny weather--almost totally true!). I even went to Zara yesterday and bought a new shirt. The real Gem is back in action!