Saturday, 25 December 2010

Time Passes - Christmas Remains

Christmas will always be my favourite holiday. The Christmases of my childhood must have made an indelible impression on me. Back then everything was permeated by an atmosphere of utter calm and harmony.

The preparations and expectations played an important role. I vividly remember the baking before Christmas. My brother and I helped mum and gran rolling coriander cookies. We weren't really allowed to taste the pastry, but we were still frequently standing by the tap to have a sip of water. Coriander pastry makes you thirsty.

Lots have happened since then. And I realize the Christmases of my childhood will never come back. Lately I've often decided to spend my Christmas abroad. It's nice to get away from the winter cold for a while. But at the same time it almost feels like skipping the festival. You go through Advent, and then suddenly you're on summer holiday!

Consequently, I guess I prefer celebrating Christmas in my homeland after all, with winter, cold and maybe even snow. It may sound a bit sad sitting on one's own on Christmas Eve. And - yes! I'd much rather celebrate Christmas the way I did before, with mum, dad, my brother and gran... But of obvious reasons this is no longer possible. And instead of crying over spilt milk, I guess one should rather try to make the best out of it.

And that's what I do. On Christmas Eve I prepared the traditional pork ribs, with potatoes, sauerkraut, prunes and sauce. And afterwards I relaxed in front of the television, watching various Christmassy programs, my regular cognac replaced by aquavit. It's Christmas, after all.

The days between Christmas and New Year's Eve are often a slight anticlimax. But recently my closest relative invited me home to him and his family on 26 and 27 December. Many other relatives were also coming. Family is important, and one should stay in touch while one still can. Unfortunately, I had already booked a trip to the US in this period. But there will be other Christmases. And hopefully also more opportunities for family reunions. 

I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas, and all the best in the New Year!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Winter Wonderland

Sundays can be sort of boring. But this time I decided to "visit myself". As some of you may know I've just bought my own flat (although I haven't moved in quite yet). Consequently, I thought it might be a god idea to get more familiar with my new local environment to be.  

According to the ad you're "only 150 metres away from the woods. Here you can enjoy leisure activities like kayaking, swimming, mountaineering, mountain biking and skiing in greatly groomed ski tracks during the winter season". This sounds great. Although I'm not generally an outdoors guy, I don't mind having forest and field nearby.

Consequently, this Sunday I took the tram to my new soon to be habitat and went into the woods. At first, I walked along "a greatly groomed ski track". But then the Capricorn within me got the better hand of me, making me set out into the woods along a narrow and hardly trodden path. The snow lay soft on the ground, and everything was quite and peaceful. After having struggled through a pretty rugged terrain, I finally found myself on top of a rock, beholding my new realm, the district of Østensjø.

It was getting dark, and I started to worry I might not find my way back. (I have many good sides, but a sense of direction is not one of these.) After having messed about in scrubs and bushes for a while, I could finally see the city lights in the distance. I got on the tram to my own district, where I made myself a cup of lovely hot chocolate. That has always been a part of wintry hikes in the woods.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

In The Night Garden

Dreams are a fascinating phenomenon. Sometimes they seem more real than reality itself. For a while I was determined to form a band playing ethereal dream pop and calling ourselves As Real As Dreams. 

Some claim that you don't dream in colours. Some claim that you can't have tactile experiences in a dream ("pinch my arm!"). Some claim that those who dream never are aware of it themselves. Well, I've just realized that neither of this is true. 

The other night I was lying sleepless in my bed, desperately trying all kinds of sleeping techniques. I've gradually discovered that a good way to enter slumberland is emptying your head of all your thoughts. It requires a bit of concentration, but it's not as hard as you might expect. Instead I try to imagine a scenery, an abstract figure or something like that, and then focus completely on this image. (I guess it's some kind of "zen"...) With a bit of luck (and concentration) I then sink deeper and deeper into this image until I'm sound asleep.

This time, however, my technique failed. I tossed and turned for hours with no result. But suddenly I found myself in a luxuriant garden. I knew that I'd been lying in bed only a few minutes earlier, and realized right away that this had to be a dream. But this only made me even more attentive of my surroundings. The colours were strong and sharp - paradoxically even more "realistic" than what you experience when you're awake. I was surrounded by green trees and shrubberies, walking (barefoot, I think) through soft, dewy grass while tiny insects were whirring around my face.    

As I said, I was fully aware of the fact that I was dreaming. Lately I've had some dreams in which I've sort of floated along some feet above the ground. Quite pleasant, actually. Since this obviously was a dream, I decided to find out whether I was able to accomplish a similar glide here as well. No sooner said than done. With my strength of will I started levitating from the ground and gliding like a ghost through the garden. But then I must have got a bit overconfident. After a few seconds I lost control and crashed into a tree!    

My sleep probably wasn't very deep, because now I started to reascend to the waking state. Right afterwards I opened my eyes and once again found myself in my bed. Damn! But I had at least made a few empirical observations of existence in dreamland, and can hereby deliver a report to you, the residents of the world of the awake.          

Thursday, 11 November 2010

R.I.P. Mac

Last weekend my Mac collapsed. First it caughed a little, then it hawked a little, and finally it died completely. It was heartbreaking.

The last few days it's been examined. And now they've made a diagnosis. It needs to be fixed. And it turns out the costs will be higher than buying a new Mac! And then what's the point? Grrr, a phrase rhyming with "clucking bell" comes to mind...  

Well, now that my Mac is dead at least I can spend the evenings in the company of a digital, text-based medium from the good, old days before the internet: Teletext. There's nothing like 7-bit graphics in eight glorious colours.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Trends & Transport

As you know, this blog has a hang-up on contemporary movements. Torgnyworld wants to feel the pulse of the latest trends and tendencies.  

An important yardstick in this connection is popular culture. Not least pop music and its promo videos. Consequently, we think that an important trend in 2011 will be (roll of drums) non-motorized vehicles

One important indication of this phenomenon is found in Mark Ronson's song "The Bike Song", temporarily on high rotation on MTV. As the title suggests, the song is dedicated to the joys of the two-wheeler. And the music video includes an almost fetishist fascination of bicycle seats, bicycle bells and bicycle lights.

Another recurrent artist on MTV's playlists is the new pop comet Eliza Doolittle (although her name sounds curiously familiar...?). In her song "Rollerblades" footwear including a vehicle device is primarily in focus. While her video is almost as fixated on bikes as the one of Mark Ronson's. 

Our prediction is consequently that muscle powered conveyances will be the next big thing. We expect a considerable boom regarding the use of bikes, rollerblades, scooters and kicksleds in 2011. Remember where you read this first!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Home, Sweet Home

As some may have noticed, I've been searching for a new flat for some time now. I had a rather active period about this time last year, going to some public viewings in downtown Oslo. (At that time I felt like living in an "urban environment", while still being pretty close to work.) But after a few months my inspiration waned, and during spring I put my hunt on ice. 

After summer holiday, however, my inspiration returned. And this time I changed my strategy slightly. I had come to the conclusion that it could actually be quite cool living outside the city centre too. Every day I take the tram to work, and I've discovered that it can actually be pretty nice in the suburbs too. Light, airy and green. So, the last couple of months I've been to some viewings in this area. And now I've even gone so far as too - lo and behold - make some bids!

Until now, however, there has always been someone else winning the bidding round. And this is always a downer. If I'm going to make a bid for a flat, I sort of have to "fall in love" with it. One does invest quite a lot of emotional capital in these cases, you know. It's a bit like having a crush on a girl, and then someone else comes along and takes her from you. After that, you don't move on to the next love interest right away, do you?   

Well, after a month's heartache after my last setback on the house front, I was once again on a few viewings last week. One flat in particular appealed to me. And since I'm getting a bit fed up with my perpetual existence as a flat searcher, I took a deep breath and made a bid. Soon after the blasted  bidding round started again. But after some counterbids - and a 10 percent price increase - I actually ended up as the winner of the round!   

Since there was an option involved, it was still too early to rejoice, though. There was still a chance someone with a higher priority might snatch the place right out of my hands. But after two days of nerve-wracking waiting I got the message: The flat was mine! :-D    

By the way, I was very surprised by the overwhelming response this news generated. When I told my colleagues that I'd become a flat owner, I was showered with congratulations. And during the day I got lots of offers from my friends about lending me their car, assisting me during my relocation, coaching me at Ikea etc. People are so kind! Thank you so much! :-)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

From The Family Album

Here you see me as a toddler, surrounded by parents, aunt, uncle and cousins. Unfortunately, great family gatherings like this were a rare thing. They usually occured in connection with important seremonies. Such as christenings, confirmations, weddings - and funerals.   

Gradually, most family members have passed away. Grandparents, uncle, aunt and parents. Last week we also received the sad news that cousin Grete had been added to the list. In a way it feels a bit strange. She is the first of the family members I have lost who actually belonged to my generation. Now my brother and my cousin Petter are the only ones left of my closest relatives. And my little nephew Bo, of course. 

On Tuesday I attended her funeral. Ceremonies like these are seldom a real gas, but personally I liked the fact that the commemorative words focused on Grete's relationship to our family cabin. This is the place were I too spent my first (and greatest) summers. I guess the cabin meant just as much to her.

A good thing about such sad events is the fact that they bring together people who usually see each other much too seldom. During the funeral I had a re-encounter with the girl from the neighbouring cabin, who used to baby-sit me during my first, happy summers. Both she and I had got a bit older since then, but I think we both appreciated seeing each other again. Such events remind us of the fact that what's most important in life is the people you have met.

Three generations enjoying the view from the cabin. Granddad, dad and me.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Time For Scarves and Cardigans

Spring is probably my favourite season. And summer is lovely. But I sort of like autumn too, with its crisp air, subacid scent of apples and multicoloured leaves.   

This weekend the weather was much too nice to stay inside, so I went to a lake nearby, along with joggers, families and dog owners. Some kids were selling coffee and lemonade. A happy dog came by to say hello. A cute girl smiled at me. A nice walk.  

The seasons return every year. But of some reason the current season always evokes associations to one particular autumn: The one in '94.

This year I finished my studies, got my first job, and moved out to no man's land. I guess you often experience things more strongly when you change your environment. And since the initial part of this "new life" of mine took place during the autumn months, I've always associated my memories of this period with this particular season.   

During this autumn sixteen years ago I also got the first record with The Cardigans. I listened a lot to it in this period, but hardly ever later on (like most music from the '90s). Consequentely, I'll always associate "Emmerdale" with cool mornings and golden leaves. And vice versa.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Indie Nights

Two weeks ago I had a lovely stay in Stockholm with my colleagues. There was, however, a fly in the ointment, as the trip coincided with a planned visit to my brother. (Social gatherings often seem to come "en bloc".

Fortunately, I managed to kill two birds with one stone. As soon as the plane from Stockholm had arrived at Oslo Airport on Saturday afternoon, I jumped aboard the first available bus to Fredrikstad, and thus got the chance to see my brother for the remainder of the weekend after all.

After my brother moved back to Eastern Norway, it has become somewhat easier to get together. This weekend he was a grass widower with little Bo, but it all worked out just fine.  

On Saturday evening we made our famous Koren pizza, and on Sunday we had a nice excursion to the neighbouring (and our childhood) town of Sarpsborg. We strolled in the city park, which now had got a nice playground which Bo seemed to enjoy. 

What I enjoy the most with our brotherly get-togethers, however, is just chilling and talking about this and that. Mostly music. In the evenings we often end up like two Beavis and Buttheads, commenting music videos. Great fun. But maybe a bit passive. 

This Saturday night, however, we chose a slightly different variety. My brother's (and my) cable company offers various radio channels playing non stop music in several different genres. This evening we ended up listening to the channel "Indie Classics", playing music we both can relate to ("independent" music from the punks' "Year Zero" until the millennium shift). Quite a lot of it we knew from before - or were at least able to identify (The Smiths, The Cure, XTCSiouxsiePistolsJamBeckCostello etc.). But lots of it was also new to us.

Eventually we ended up trying to identify the artists. The fact that there were no intros or outros to the songs made it a bit of a challenge. The solution was noting down fragments of the lyrics of the songs we didn't know, and then google them. It turned out we've actually got a rather good intuition about indie music we've never heard before. In the small hours we concluded that this had to be a great radio concept: Two brothers discussing songs they don't know what is...

At any rate, it was a great weekend. And little Bo seemed to appreciate a visit from "unca" Torgny. When I had to leave on Sunday evening, he seemed almost a little dishearted. I guess that's a good sign. :-)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Stockholm in September

As you probably know by now, I've got lovely students at work. But my colleagues aren't too bad, either. Unfortunately, we don't see each other that often outside work.

Last week, however, we went on a four-day trip to Stockholm, Sweden. A welcome opportunity to socialize with one's workmates in a slightly different setting than usual.

A great deal of the stay naturally had a professional focus, like visiting some of the city's adult education centres. In this respect, I'm not really sure how fruitful this stay really was. We could probably get similar insights without crossing national borders. In fact, I think visiting the classroom of a colleague could have been just as informative...

But personally I appreciated the stay of other reasons. Firstly, Stockholm is a lovely city - with its islands, bridges and water. And secondly, it's nice seeing one's colleagues outside the four walls of our workplace. Travelling abroad does something to you. Getting away from the routines of everyday life tends to make you a bit more open and relaxed.

In addition to the professional content, we also had several social activities, including a lovely three course meal at a nice restaurant in the Old Town. And on Friday we got all afternoon at our disposal, giving us plenty of time to stroll around in the shopping streets, and then spend the night at cozy bars.

It all was really nice. And hopefully this might inspire me and my colleagues to more social gatherings here in Oslo as well...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Frustrated House Hunt. Again

As some may remember, last year I decided to start looking for an apartment. After several viewings, however, my inspiration faded, and I put my house hunt on ice.

I'm not sure if it's because of my summer holiday or something else, but during the last month my motivation for finding a place of my own has to some extent returned.

Until recently I've mostly focused on flats in the central area of Oslo. I guess I'm basically a rather urban kind of guy, preferring asphalt under my feet.

Lately I've changed my strategy a bit, though. On the tram on the way to work I daily pass nice and green areas in the more suburban parts of the town. Charming houses with gardens and flagpoles.

Consequently, I recently went to this year's first viewing. The place was idyllically situated between a lake and the Oslo woods, but still with enough asphalt to make the urbanist happy. Besides, I liked the flat itself - an "exclusive and attractive apartment with a balcony facing west".

To be honest, I hate looking for a flat. Viewings, bidding rounds etc. I actually just want to get it over with. But as a flat searcher you obviously either 1) sit on the fence forever, or 2) settle quickly and make a bid.

Until now I've stuck to the former strategy - with no results so far. Consequently, this time I took heart and made the first bid of my life! I may have swallowed heavily and wiped off a bead of sweat from my forehead. But I did it!

The next day hell broke loose, with phone calls from the estate agent with continual counterbids every second minute. The other guy kept adding a few thousand every time, until my wallet was scraped. If that's how it's gonna be, then screw it all!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Cure, Culters & Classmates

According to the somewhat spaced-out psychologist C. G. Jung we occasionally experience coincidences which have to arise from something more than just coincidences. This phenomenon he refers to as "synchronicity".

Yesterday I was at the record shop and came across a Greatest Hits collection with The Cure (consisting of a double CD and a DVD) for just a few bucks. An offer no music lover can turn down.

At the underground right afterwards I was sitting opposite three teenage girls with a style I sort of liked. Black clothes, black mascara and big black hair. Mini versions of Robert Smith, all of them. Maybe they're called emos today, but for me they were reincarnations of the little nine-graders dressed in black (then called "culters") hanging outside the local record shop in the mid-80s.

As I walked down the main avenue a bit later, I - much to my surprise - bumped into an old classmate visiting Oslo (now she's got vampire teeth and tattoos all over her body; a reminder that the most exciting people are those I'd probably never even get to know today).

From The Cure, via the "culters" of my youth, to an unexpected encounter with my old classmate. Could this be caused by pure coincidences? Or was this some kind of Jungian synchronicity?

On the other hand: In a rare whim of humility Freud once admitted that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". Maybe his colleague Jung on his part would agree that "coincidences sometimes are just coincidences"?

Well, no matter what I had a nice Saturday afternoon.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Another School Year

Although I wouldn't mind prolonging my summer holiday with one or two additional weeks, I guess it was ok getting back to work again. It all started with a two-day course at a conference hotel last week.

Since the participants came from all the adult education centres in town, I also got the chance to see my nice colleagues from my former workplace again. True, the very first person I ran into was my personal nemesis. But after having survived her basilisk gaze I was actually quite glad to get that over and done with. And afterwards I could socialize with my ex-colleagues. I don't regret leaving my former workplace. But it was a pity losing so many nice colleagues.

The program offered many relevant/interesting topics, although I personally didn't always find the relevant stuff that interesting. And vice versa.

An element which may not have been that relevant for the daily work in the classroom, but which still caught my interest, was a presentation of Holland's six personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional (or for short: RIASEC).

During the presentation we were encouraged to find our own personality types, and it turned out that both I and my neighbour defined ourselves primarily as S-, I- and A-types. On the other hand, I guess it's no surprise that teachers usually have a social, investigative and artistic disposition.

All in all these days were a rather good start of the new school year. And of course it felt great being able to eat as much soft ice and pop corn as we wanted. Teachers aren't exactly pampered with fringe benefits.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Back To Life, Back To Reality...

Yesterday I had the last day of my vaacation. And after two months I guess it might be a good idea to get back to the everyday life again. Holidays easily make you develop bad habits. Like watching tv all morning.

As for me, old reruns of Frasier and Judging Amy have lately become part of my morning ritual. I sometimes feel like a lazy housewife. The only things missing are the housecoat, hair roller and a cigarette in my mouth. (But I guess things could be EVEN worse. I could be watching Oprah and Dynasty instead...)

Well, since this was my last day off, I decided to make the best out of it. I got up rather early, watched my prescribed Frasier and Amy episodes, and then eventually went out into the Oslo summer - which unfortunately wasn't very summery. But after having read the paper at the local library I still decided to explore the fjord.

There hasn't been much beach life this summer, and now that everyday life is on its way again, it's hard to say when (or if) there'll be another chance. So I took the bus to one of the islands and had a nice, refreshing dip. (When I almost collided with a 100 pound sea nettle, however, I realized I better get out of the water again.)

In the evening I enjoyed a chicken salad and some wine. The wine was kind of sour, and the salad didn't agree with me very well. But what the heck! I enjoyed this day of my vacation as if it was my last one. Probably because it was. But fortunately there are only 10 months until my next summer holiday. Yay!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The District & NYC

One might think my three-week InterRail should have satisfied my need to travel. But now I've just returned from yet another trip, this time to Washington DC and New York City.

I didn't really have that many expectations about DC. I was mostly imagining lots of public buildings. But although Washington is the administrative centre of the US, it was far from boring. Escpecially since the "public buildings" also included the White House and Capitol!

Another sight was the Smithsonian Institution's many exciting (and admission-free) museums by the Mall. We didn't have time to see them all, but visited the Museums for Natural History, American History and Air and Space. Interesting and informative.

After four days in DC, New York was our next stop. Compared to DC's relatively low buildings and modest pace, the skyskrapers and swarming street life of The Big Apple seemed like the diametrical opposite!

On Saturday we spent most of the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but still only got time for a fraction of the collection: Greek, Roman and so-called Primitive art, plus paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. All the same, I got the chance to see several of my favourite artists (Surrealists, Avantgardists and Impressionists, plus the occasional Pre-Raphaelite...).

It was a great stay, but every time I visit New York, the last day has always a certain bitter-sweetness to it. I won't bother to explain why. It has to do with goodbyes.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Southern Discomfort

There aren't really that many things I'm that opinionated about. I'm supposed to be an "intellectual", but often have no clear conviction what books, movies etc. I actually prefer. And when it comes to clothes, furnishing and so on, I'm even less opinionated.

However, I do have rather clear opinions when the existential stuff is concerned - the things that give meaning to life. Such as the opposite sex. And not least music.

Although I grew up in the 70s, the music from that decade is actually the one I like the least. The 60s were a golden age, and the 80s are much better than their reputation. But the music from around 1968 and onwards is in my view a real bummer. I blame the hippies.

All afternoon I've listened to my neoghbour's musical preferences from an open window. It started bad, with Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Have You Ever Seen The Rain", and went from bad to worse, with Nazareth and "Love Hurts". When "Living Next Door To Alice" followed, I hardly believed my ears. What kind of person was this, playing all my most hated ballads from the 70s?!

At that point I actually started betting with myself what could be the next tune. Rod Stewart's "Sailing"? Or maybe Bonnie Tyler with "It's A Heartache"? It turned out, however, that the guy now had decided to dedicate the afternoon entirely to Creedence. One by one, "Bad Moon Rising", "Rolling On The River" and "Down On The Corner" sounded from the open window. Finally, however, he went on to play The Wall in its entirety. And in all fairness, I don't hate Pink Floyd. I just dislike them strongly.

Sometimes I wonder how one actually knows what one knows. Even about things one's not interested in at all. When I hear names like Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or Lynyrd Skynyrd, I don't know one single song title. But I still "know" that these are bands I definitely don't like, and which all can be categorized as "down to earth Southern rock'n'roll... (Even the term gives me a bad taste in my mouth... Ugh!)

I guess many may disagree with me. We all have different tastes (or in this case: distastes). But as I said, music is one of rather few topics about which I can be quite opinionated.

Monday, 26 July 2010

InterRail 2010

After my return from my InterRail trip through Central Europe, here's a little summary:

30 June - 4 July: Berlin, Germany

The first day I spent, according to tradition, just walking up and down the streets, in order to get a gist of the city's "nerve". I went along Kurfürstendamm, through Tiergarten, past the Reichstag and Brandenburger Tor, all the way to Alexanderplatz. It's always like that when I visit new places: I walk until my feet are sore. (But that doesn't matter as long as der kleine Laden um die Ecke sells lovely Orangina. In 1 litre bottles, even!)

The last time I visited Berlin, an ugly wall went through the city. It had disappeared since then, but entering the former East Berlin I still got some of the same old feeling. Some may remember the postcards you could get until quite recently, with photos of the local sights, apparently hand-(Techno)colored, all with car models from the 50s! Well, entering the eastern parts of Berlin I got a bit of the same feeling. The spirit from the GDR days was still in the air. The only thing missing was the blue Trabi's.

But there's still one reminiscence from the GDR era I kind of like: "der Ampelmann". As opposed to our western, stylized matchstick traffic light man, East Germany had a much more charming chap. He looked as if he was taken from some ultra-educational cartoon (and maybe he was, too). And you can still see him at several of Berlin's pedestrian crossings.

During these days I also got a chance to visit a couple of museums. Including the "Wall Museum" by the old Checkpoint Charlie. Lots of interesting information about the personal stories and fates associated to The Wall of Shame.

I also visited the "Museumsinsel" - an island (or rather an peninsula) containing several museums with cultural historical treasures from antiquity. Once again I was reminded of these names that tend to turn up when I'm out travelling and visiting the local museums (and then forget again): Schliemann, Champollion, Ventris, etc.

I really enjoyed Berlin. But after four days I started dreaming of German conjugations and dative forms, and realized I maybe ought to get somewhere I wouldn't even try to speak the native tongue... :-)

4 - 6 July: Prague, Czech Republic

Although I had four great and eventful days in Berlin, it still felt as if my InterRail travel really started when I entered the train transporting me southwards through eastern Germany.

When means of transport are concerned, I guess trains are my favourite. Planes may be more efficient, but they only bring you from A to B. On the way you're just sitting in a tin can high up in the air. Travelling by train, however, you're really on your way. You see cities, railway stations, sceneries and people's houses passing by. It's not hard to understand why the guys in Kraftwerk made musical homages to travels by train and car (but as far as I know never by plane...).

I was in Prague only a few years ago. Maybe that's why this visit didn't feel quite as new and exciting as the others. Charles Bridge was still there, and the Old Town was still nice. But I did enjoy sitting on the town square watching tourists applauding the astronomical clock's strikes every hour. Especially when I realized that the café would only serve their wine in large bottles.

However, Prague's nightlife may be not totally without its dangers. Fortunately, I soon realized I probably should avoid dark joints with red plush on the wall and one lightly dressed lady by the bar. (17 January 1968 I might have thought: "Hey, this seems like a nice place". But then I was born yesterday...)

6 - 9 July: Munich, Germany

After Prague I went on to Munich - a city characterized by Bavarian Gemütlichkeit... Of course I had to check out the city's famous beer houses and beer gardens, but ended up in the same Bierstube as all the other tourists. I have nothing against Japanese girls (on the contrary!), but they don't exactly give me a sense of genuine Münchener authenticity.

The second evening in Munich, however, I participated in a four-hour "Beer Challenge", which was basically an arranged pub to pub tour. Judging from the other participants this would be more appropriate for Torgny's InterRail tour 1990 than ditto 2010. But it was a nice change enjoying one's Augustiner Edelstoff in the company of other, fun people.

9 - 11 July: Zürich, Switzerland

Big city holidays are great. But after having visited Berlin, Prague and Munich I was starting to reach a saturation point for museums, pubs and cafés. Instead I was now ready for beautiful sceneries.

Consequently, it seems my next destination - Switzerland - was quite appropriate. On the tenth day of my European tour the train arrived at Zürich Hauptbahnhof.

Zürich seemed like an ok city, but I had problems detecting any obvious sights. So, on my second day I decided to use my InterRail pass for what it was worth.

I initially wanted to see all of Switzerland. The country isn't that big, but still offers lots of different sceneries. And no less than four official languages. Being a language geek I was tempted to visit all the language areas during my stay. "The great language journey - in little Switzerland".

However, I realized this might be a bit too ambitious for a one-day trip. Instead I went to the neighbouring city Luzern, whose Renaissance architecture offered much more character than Zürich, and then went on to Interlaken, with a great view of the alpine Jungfrau massive from its (extremely touristified) avenue. Maybe not die ganze Schweiz. But at least das Herz der Schweiz.

Still, the greatest Swiss experience was the travel itself. We passed deep woods, little villages and grand alpine sceneries. What impressed me the most, however, was all the lakes (the kind that English Romantics tend to drown in). Usually I think lakes are rather dull, but the Swiss ones had a peculiar azure colour. I don't know how they do it. (The only thing I regret from this stay, is not having a dip in any of them.)

11 - 13 July: Vienna, Austria

After Zürich I decided to pay a visit to Vienna, resulting in a long journey through all of Austria (via the Tirol city Innsbruck and Mozart's native town Salzburg). But since the journey involved many scenic experiences on the way, this didn't matter much. (As an extra bonus the trip also included another country I've never visited before - Liechtenstein. The travel through the principality took about five minutes...)

In Vienna I admired St Stephen's Cathedral, had my Sachertorte and walked along the Danube canal.

Usually I'm no fan of romantic comedies. But a personal favourite will always be "Before Sunrise" (1995), in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, after meeting at a train to Vienna, decide to spend their next hours on a nocturnal walk through the streets of the city.

This film reminds me of what it was like being 23. You could meet a girl on a train and spontaneously decide to get off with her at the next station. During my walk along Vienna's landmarks I almost imagined myself starring in this movie. The only thing missing was the pretty, French girl.

After Vienna there was a long and rather tedious stretch westwards, but the Rhine valley presented more scenic surroundings, with slopes covered with grapevines and castles on every hill. In Koblenz I had to change to a local train towards the Mosel valley, but I didn't mind. As I've said before, I prefer trains to planes. (And this has nothing to do with aerophobia. I just think planes are cold, cramped and clinical.) Of the same reason I like local trains even more than express trains. They make you feel you're really on your way.

15 - 16 July, Luxembourg City

Exactly thirty years ago my family went on a legendary car ride through the north-western part of Europe. During the last week of this summer's InterRail travel I decided to repeat this trip - albeit in reverse.

My first stop was Luxembourg. Until then most of my destinations had belonged to the Germanophonic part of Europe. Luxembourg City, however, turned out to be more characterized by French. Frankly, I'd hoped to hear some interesting phrases in lëtzebuergesch, but apparently the capital wasn't the best location for such observations. Luxembourg-Ville wasn't that big, but it had a nice and characteristic Old Town with narrow, paved alleys.

16 - 18 July: Bruges, Belgium

The next day I took the train through the beautiful Belgian Ardennes and eventually reached the Medieval town of Bruges. Of some reason I found the 17th Century buildings even nicer now than when I visited the town as a 12-year-old.

Belgium isn't that big, so I decided to visit some of the neighbouring towns as well. After almost three weeks in Central Europe I was starting to feel an urge for the ocean, so I went to Oostende, enjoying the sea air and the sandy beach. Afterwards I visited Gent, a city filled with litter and holes. I didn't care much about it, and soon returned to my base in Bruges.

18 - 22 July: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

My InterRail pass was running out, but there was still one more place I had to see. 18 July I arrived in Amsterdam. This place is really something else, with its canals, house boats, flower boxes and bicycle terrorists. Ever since my first visit in 1980 I've liked the Netherlands. The Dutch are in many ways quite similar to us Norwegians (and also have some additional social intelligence).

During the stay I visited the Rijksmuseum and the Artis Zoo. I also made the wise choice of purchasing a 24-hour pass for hopping on and off various canalboat routes. The best way to experience Amsterdam is probably by the canals.

After four days in Amsterdam it was finally time to return home. It had been an eventful journey (and I really recommend InterRail!). THANK YOU, EUROPE!

But I must admit it feels great sleeping in one's own bed once again. :-)

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Europe At My Feet

20 years ago I went on my first InterRail trip, ambitiously planning to cover vast parts of the European map. True, I only ended up covering France and the UK, but it was still a great and eventful journey.

Ten years before this I went on another, just as momentous travel: My family's car ride through the BeNeLux countries and Germany, including the beautiful Mosel valley. This too was definitely a memorable experience.

Now it's 2010, and once again it's summer and time for travelling. After last year's Tibetan extravaganza I had decided to take it more easy thie year. Maybe just a few days in a European city or something. But Europe has so many interesting cities. I was considering Berlin, London, Amsterdam and many others. But then I realized that there's actually a reasonable way to visit two, three and many even more European cities within a few weeks. Namely InterRail!

So, now I'm considering just jumping on the first train available and go wherever the European railway network might lead me. I hope to revisit several nice places from both my InterRail 1990 and my family's car ride 1980. And if any of you should happen to be somewhere on the continent this summer, just give me a call. Maybe I could drop by for tea or something? ;-)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Bafana Bafana

No one can claim that I have any interest in sports! The only time I've ever had the correct answer in the sports category of Trivial Pursuit was when I was asked about the abbreviation of the International Boxing Assciation. (That's right, brainiacs. The answer is IBA.)

Consequently, I hardly ever watch soccer. But the World Cup is an exception. Then all the matches are more than just a match. All the results count. Besides, I find this a nice pastime during some idle summer weeks. It's a bit like the European Song Contest, really. Most of the songs performed there, I would never have listened to under normal circumstances. Likewise, the World Cup is more entertaining than an ordinary soccer match. Simply because it's the World Cup.

So far the cup has involved a few surprises: Spain was beaten by Switzerland. North Korea "only" lost 1-2 to Brazil. And Germany has got a style of play that does NOT immediately prompt military and machine-related metaphors. Personally, I don't have any favourites, but tend to support the best playing team at any time. (If Norway sucks, I cheer for their opponents. No mercy.) All the same, I do put on Brazil's shirt when the samba lads play. Mostly because it's the only football shirt I've got. And because this gives me a welcome opportunity to air it. I never wear it in public. Yellow doesn't become me.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Bitter-sweet Summer Party

Yesterday was the last day before the summer holidays, and according to tradition my class and I gathered for an end-of-term party with delicious dishes, exotic music and pleasant company. Kat had prepared a lovely plate of sushi. Lovisa performed cheerful folk dances from her native country. And poor Endah spent so much time preparing food that she didn't get to the party at all. Instead she came later that day to present the dishes to her teacher. (Do you understand what kind of people I'm dealing with? They're so lovely they almost make my heart hurt!)

These parties are always nice, but at the same time there's also a bitter sweetness to them. The students are so sweet and grateful I almost get a bad conscience. I want to tell them I'm the one who should be grateful for the privilege of spending some hours with these guys every day. The hours in the classroom are usually the most stimulating ones during the whole day. Of course, this might indicate that I should get better at making life more fun also during the rest of the day. But it also means that I'm one of those lucky guys who really feel they've got a meaningful job. When the party was over, and I was left with nice presents and a full heart, I felt both happy and sad at the same time. After so much loving company you easily get a sense of anticlimax afterwards.

Later in the evening I went out with some of my colleagues. Personally, I often feel that these monthly get-togethers to some extent depends of my mood, the topics discussed and the mix of people. But yesterday was really nice. First we had dinner at a restaurant, then we watched soccer at a pub, and finally we had a couple of drinks at a nice café. A pleasant conclusion of the school year - and a ditto start of the summer holiday. I hope for more experiences like these also during the next couple of months... Stay in touch, dear friends - and HAVE A GREAT SUMMER! :-)

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Salsa At Skullerud

I recently read somewhere that most people are happier at work than at home. At their work place they experience recognition and acknowledgement, whereas they often feel stress and exhaustion in their family life. Although I don't fully identify with the latter, I must still say that the most stimulating hours of the day are those I'm at work. But this may also have something to do with the fact that I've got a job where I meet fun and inspiring people every day.

This fact becomes particularly evident when we take a break from our grammar exercises and essay writing, and rather do something more sociable instead. Summer holiday is approaching, and today the student council arranged a summer party with a quiz track, activities, joint lunch and entertainment. There were hot dogs and lemonade for everyone, and the Ethiopian ladies served dishes from the motherland. It was exquisite (although a bit hard to consume for a Norwegian used to forks and knives...).

The students also put on a great show. One of the highlights occured when the Latinas entered the stage with seductive rhythms and suggestive dancing. I had strategically found a seat in the front row, and experienced (I think) some "dangerous" looks from one of the beauties. (I was instantly reminded of a similar arrangement from my Berlitz days, when the lovely Ana Paula insisted on dancing samba with me. The teacher immediately legged it and was never seen again...)

There are lovely ladies all around the world. But from an objective point of view, I think the Latinas are the loveliest of them all. No wonder I'm happy at work! ;-)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Israel's Apartheid

Those of us who have been around for a while, might remember the period when South Africa generated connotations of suppression, racism and apartheid. In this country one part of the population had all the power and privileges, while the rest of the people was suppressed and browbeaten.

Fortunately, South Africa as an apartheid state is history, but in another part of the world there's still a country basing its policy on the supremacy of one people. The state of Israel was established as a result of the bad conscience of the West after the holocaust. What they forgot, however, was the fact that the area was already populated by another people.

Today's Israel acts in many ways like an apartheid state similar of the one people once faught in South Africa. The Jewish population has all the political and military power, and the Palestinians are treated like second-rate citizens. The parallel to the South African racist regime seems obvious: In the same way that South Africa wanted to remain a "white" island on a "black" continent, the Israeli have by political and military means established a Jewish state in the midst of an Arabic area.

The atrocities the Jews had to endure during WWII must never be forgotten. But this still doesn't give them any right to suppress another people. (No other nation lost as many citizens during the war than the Soviet Union. But this of course doesn't justify Stalin's colonization of Eastern Europe in the following years.)

Israel's military arrogance seems to know no limits. Their recent invasions of Lebanon and Gaza - not to mention last week's piracy of civilian ships in international waters - are just a few examples. It almost makes you wonder if the establishment of the state of Israel in the first place was actually a mistake.

I will not go as far as Iran and various radical Arabic states and demand the wiping out of Israel from the map altogether. This seems disturbingly close to Anti-Semittism. But just like South Africa still exists as a nation, I think today's Israel (being a de facto apartheid state) should somehow be replaced by a state with equal rights for everyone, regardless of their ethnicity. A state where the Jews don't become the new "master race", with the Arabs as some kind of "subhumans". If there's one people that should know the possible outcome of such a policy, it would be the Jews...

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Sharing The Moment (ESC 2010)

We're getting ready for the greatest European cultural event of the year: EuroSong 2010. True, most songs in this competition are incompatible with my personal musical taste. But you don't have more fun than what you create on your own.

During the two semifinals a lot (but not all) of the rubbish was wiped out. But I think a couple of the songs that didn't make it all the way deserve an honourable mention. For instance, I kind of liked Estonia's song. It had a certain character that appealed to my alternative heart. Besides, I think Sweden's song were one of the better ballads.

Ok, then we're off. I really ought to watch the ESC final at a shabby hotel room with half a bottle of whisky on the table. (I've done it once, and consequently it's a tradition.) But it's ok watching it in the comfort of one's own home, too.

01. Azerbaijan: Safura: Drip Drop
Nothing special. The verse is rather vapid, and the chorus lasts for four seconds.

Spanish circus melancholy. It's ok, although I'm not really that crazy about sawdust and trapezes. And as we all know, when the laughter has stopped and the spotlights have died, the little clown goes home and weeps...

The most boring ballad Céline Dion never sang. What a personality! What a charisma! Yes, I'm being sarcastic. I'm pretty sure our national broadcasting company won't have to book Telenor Arena for the next year.

I don't fully catch this up-tempo pop tune. Terrible stage show. And much too much sax.

Neat and proper guitar based ballad from the isle of Aphrodite. Pretty dull in my ears.

06. Bosnia & Herzegovina: Vikasin Brajic: Thunder And Lightning
Guitar based again. Electric guitar this time. Rather rocky. It's ok, I guess.

What? Do Cyprus play an encore of their guitar ballad? No, it turns out it's another song after all. Just almost as boring. It reminds me of James Blunt or Savage Garden or various other artists whose names I don't even bother to remember.

Balkan trumpets at last! I don't quite catch the verse. It's a bit too exotic sounding for my ears. But the chorus kicks ass. The choreography is also pretty cool! A clear favourite so far.

09. Belarus: 3 + 2: Butterflies
Bel canto from Belarus. And look at those pretty butterfly wings! Pure euphony, and I have a thing for stuff that's sweet and sticky. I love chocolate. But sometimes I eat a bit too much. And then I have to vomit.

"Grand", "beautiful", "Irish" ballad. I'm sure this is good handiwork. And I'm sure this is a nice experience for those who like this kind of stuff. But it doesn't move me much. Besides, I think tin flutes have become the new pan flute.

Ageing Greek surrounded by rutting testosterone bombs. I get an urge to cover my nose. And to give them one on the kisser.

12. United Kingdom: Josh: That Sounds Good To Me
The song Rick Astley refused to record in 1988. Now Stock/Aitken/Waterman have warmed up the stew again, 20 years later. I think you can imagine what it tastes like...

Pretty much the same as their neighbouring country Azerbaijan (see above). My brother just sent me an sms: "Kate Bushism!"

Some kind of nu metal? Not my favourite genre, but I don't mind a bit of rock'n'roll in between all the ballads.

It appears things have changed in Albania since the days of Enver Hoxha. This is modern and catchy pop with a punk rocker on violin and three Albanian Supremes. Quite good, actually.

90s disco with trance influences. Hera is as statuesque as the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, she's also as stagnant (although she occasionally raises her hand and at some point even walks three steps to the left). But the song itself isn't that bad.

17. The Ukraine: Alyosha: Sweet People
Not quite sure what to think of this. It's definitely "different", and that's often a good thing. Soulful in a rock'n'roll kind of way, sort of. But of some reason I also associate the song with "heavy metal ballads" à la Scorpions, and that's definitely not good!

Catchy rhythms from the Colonies. Lots of rump shaking and acrobatics. France's contributions are often quite original. But I suggest they save this one for the Football World Cup.

This is music I really shouldn't like at all. Pure pop. And a lady by a grand piano inevitably generates associations to Alicia Keys. But I have to admit this gets me going. Regardless of the final results, I suspect this is a song we'll hear a lot of in 2010.

Bloody hell, what a lot of whining! I hope this is meant as a joke. But in this case my sense of humour is overruled by my taste in music. Or... maybe not? I've heard this song a couple of times by now... And it may be a bit better than the first impression. In any case, this is a song it's hard to be indifferent about.

A 6 ft 5 beauty with a hair almost equally long sings about an apricot stone from the motherland. Oriental tones and catchy thythms. Not bad at all. But I don't like her stressing ApriCOT.

22. Germany: Lena: Satellite
Bouncy pop and Sprechgesang in an imaginary accent. This is really swinging. Yet another favourite.

Nice, little ballad, performed by a very pretty, young lady. Moreover in Portuguese, which I find a very "musical" language. Hard not to like, although I guess poor Portugal will end up in the 15th position, as always.

24. Israel: Harel Skaat: Milim
Lots of Hebrew plurals here. Although ballads isn't my favourite genre, I'm actually touched by this song. A strong song with strong singing.

He looks like Sting. He sounds like Sting. And he sings a song that's almost identical with a song Sting once wrote. When they finally get to the chorus, and the "Every Breath You Take" bass movement is toned down a bit, it gets downright boring.

Well, all the songs have been presented, and now it's time for the interlude. Madcon and all of Europe dancing. Impressive. I always get a bit worried when Norway's about to arrange big events. Will we manage not to make fools of ourselves? Well, watching the ESC final actually made me feel a bit proud. Not because of the Norwegian contribution (on the contrary!), but because the NRK have pulled off a great production. Thank you, Nadia, Haddy and Erik. You're good, fun and pretty.

Ok, we've come to a conclusion: Next year's ESC final will be in Germany. I can definitely live with that. And the best thing of them all: The UK ended up in a well-deserved last position!