Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Driver's License!

Yesterday I took my road test for a driver's license. If you plan on being in Norway for more than a year, and driving, it is required to switch your driver's license. The rules are different depending on which country you are from. Some folks from EU countries need only trade their license and pay a fee. Americans are not required to take a written test, but must pass a road test. I understand that it because many Americans have trouble with roundabouts.

Navigating the system was a challenge. I needed to register at the license office, then contact a driving school and arrange for a car. They arranged the testing time. Because it is a busy time of year, I had to wait 6 weeks to get my exam. I signed up for the optional "warm-up time" with an instructor, 30 minutes of driving around. I was skeptical of the warm-up time, not sure if I needed it after having driven for 27 years, but I was glad I did it. The car was a brand-new manual BMW with a sensitive clutch, and the instructor gave me lots of tips which came in handy during the exam.

The test was a 45-minute road test, driving through the country, neighborhoods, highway, and city. The weather was gorgeous, and when we got out in the country with the winding roads and beautiful fall colors, I wanted only to roll down the windows and put the pedal to the metal... but I restrained myself and drove the painstakingly slow 60 kmh (about 37 mph).

I passed. "Helhet OK!" the examiner wrote ("Entirely OK!"). Final cost of car rental, warm-up time, road test, and license fee: about 2800- kr. After all the stress of figuring out what I needed to do, the money doesn't even matter. I've got a license from one of the strictest countries in the world, an international license which allows me to drive anywhere. Woo-hoo!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New friends

Friends of friends alerted us to an American family from Bellingham who was considering coming to Norway this year. We've been corresponding with them via email, and they decided to take the plunge and move to Elverum for the year. Elverum is a small town about 4 or 5 hours south of Trondheim. I understand they have wonderful trails for biking and skiing, but maybe not a lot more. This weekend they came to stay with us and experience life in "the big city."

I picked up Brita, Peter, and their two children Conlon and Juliette (ages 15 and 13) at the train station Friday evening. We had a traditional local meal of sodd (meatball and lamb soup with potatoes and carrots), played some games, and visited our neighbors Martin and Elisabeth for øl (beer) and sjokoladekake (chocolate cake). Martin and Elisabeth joke that they are our "token Norwegian friends" because we've been bringing so many visitors over to see "real Norwegians." It was a delightful evening.

The next day, we walked downtown, passing through Kristiansten festning and Bakklandet, then across the bridge towards the Torg. Peter (my son Peter) show me the climbing center where he has climbing class each week. Holy cow! The place is huge and scary!

The Kiffney's then explored downtown while I worked the Forskningstorg and my kids ran around making slime and riding Segways. In the evening, we were all a little tired, but we pepped up a little for games and Rock Band.

In the morning, after a traditional breakfast of waffles and brunost, we drove down to Lade and built a fire on the rocky shores of the fjord. Maggie made a lucky find: a bundle of sticks, pre-sharpened to points perfect for roasting pølse. We ate and walked up to the top of a cliff where we had a fantastic view of field and fjord.

We weren't sure what to expect with a family we'd never met before, but we got along great with the Kiffney's. It was a very fun and easy weekend, especially with the PERFECT fall weather we've been having this week. It's almost nice enough to make me forget how cold the summer and winter have been!

Brita is keeping a blog also, much like this one, so if you'd like to read about another family's experiences in a slightly different kind of Norwegian setting, you can check out her blog at:

Here's one more picture, of two boys both named Peter Michael. Yet another coincidence.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Today was the start of Reseach Days, a national weekend celebrating science research. Trondheim celebrates with many events, the most visible one is the Forskningstorg, two tents in which many groups arrange fun activities for schools and the public.

I was involved with two groups this year, the mathematics center where I work, and also a booth I did with Allan to share our research on the future of number.

It was a very busy two days, and oh so much fun. My kids came with their school on Friday and then came again on Saturday to do the whole thing again!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I had a dream last night in Norwegian. In the dream I met with dignitaries from the north of Norway, and I made conversation with them as we walked across campus. In the dream, I had the same difficulties coming up with words that I have in real life, and just like in real life I concocted sentences that weren't exactly how I wanted to say thing but still could get my meaning across. As if it's not enough that I struggle during waking hours...

Well, they say you're really starting to understand a language when you think in it. I suppose dreaming in the language is another step up!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Circus themes are running in the family again. Maggie is signed up for circus class with Sirka Sirkuset, a group operating through the Trondheim culture-school. She has classes every week with her best friend, and I am quite pleased that we were able to get her into the program which usually has a long waiting list.

I've also been engaged teaching a circus club at the international school after school once a week. I'd thought I would have middle-school students, but instead I have a group of 12 younger pupils, mostly 1st and 2nd graders. It's a whole different kind of juggling with that age!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pam's Party

We hosted a big party today for Pam's 40th birthday. The theme was: When you were young, what did you think you'd doing when you became a grown-up? Come dressed as that person!

The kids complained that we spent the whole day cleaning, but it was worth it! (In truth, we spent a good part of the morning at the schools rummage sale, buying too many things). The house was just barely ready by 5 pm, but what fun it was! We had folks dressed as doctors and nurses, an artist, Jessica rabbit, a clown, a secretary, Indiana Jones, dancers, Pam was an actress and I was a mad scientist... in all we had 30 grown-ups and a group of kids, some of whom slept over. We cooked out and stayed up late, and it was so much fun. I was delighted that our house could easily handle such a crowd and that everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. A string of taxi arrived after midnight to ferry folks home, and we went to bed very pleased.

Sunday we just took it easy, enjoying a fire and quiet creative time. A good weekend.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Max's Birthday

Today I joined Allan for his son's birthday party. What a fun trip! The two of drove 20 kids in two minibuses out to a nearby cave, where we explored it with candles. The candles were a great idea – not only did it make for amazing ambience, but if the boys run the candles go out, so it forces them to go slowly.

Afterwards we went to a school and had the party, where I dusted off my old performers persona and did a juggling/magic show. The boys were very receptive – here they are all hiding behind their chairs when I pulled out the knives. Fun! If math ever doesn't work out for me, I think I'd be happy going back to the stage.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I took a flight to Kristiansand on the south coast of Norway today to give a workshop for mathematics mentors. I made sure I gave myself a couple extra hours to take the bus downtown to explore a little. The town is fairly small and it was easy to see a lot in two hours. I started at the waterfront, where there is a very lovely park with modern fountains and sculpture. A fortress here houses many cannons and offers a fine view of the harbor. Wandering into sentrum, I saw more sculptures and lots of interesting architecture. Kristiansand has a long pedestrian street full of shops and restaurants, and I decided for the lunch special at a cute downtown cafe (whose name I've now forgotten). I had a warm soup and salad, followed by a beer while I worked on a paper in the lovely cafe.  Then back to the waterfront to catch an airport bus and begin the long trip home again..

I've heard nice things about Kristiansand. Some of the folks at the workshop, the "locals", were skeptical I would find much of interest because it the city so small. But I did indeed have a pleasant afternoon exploring, and didn't think it was too small at all. I like to see new cities, but it would have been better with some company. Next time I'll need to bring a friend!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

100 year fest

NTNU is celebrating it's 100-year anniversary, and their big party was last night. It started with after-work parties all across campus. We enjoyed champagne with the various folks around our office, and then I headed off to explore the activities.

We took a tour of the attic of the main old building, saw some robotic snakes, rode on a Segway (fun and easy!), saw an awesome science show, and then met up with old friends for the concerts.

The highlight was the Åge Aleksandersen concert that closed the evening from 10:30 to midnight. Åge has been a Trønder-Rock musician for about 40 years. A well-known Trondheim native, he lives very close to my house but this was the first time I'd seen him at work. Wow. Just wow. The show was terrific. The floor bounced up and down with the dancing, and everyone sang along. I felt like a part of Norwegian culture – here is a musician that everyone in Trondheim grew up listening to, and whether or not he's seen as dated today or not, there is no denying that he is a cultural force.

Count me as an Åge fan!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eventyret av en melodi

Knutsen og Ludvigsen are two well-loved Norwegian children's entertainers. They've written dozens of songs and all Norwegians have grown up with their music. One of my favorites is Eventyret av en melodi, which tells the story of a boy who walked along whistling a medoly, which got picked up by birds and school children and city folk and eventually made its way to the king where it became a national sensation. The song is very funny, and they offer 3 possible endings, each one brilliant.

The man who plays the role of Ludvigsen died a few months ago, and there was a national day of mourning. A tribute concert is being planned, and a website is collecting recordings of people singing or humming the melody. They will play them all simultaneously at the concert. Anna's class made a contribution, here's a screenshot from the site.

If you want to hear all the contributors singing the melody together, visit kamfest here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Downtown people-watching

The group wanted to experience some normal downtown life for the final day, so we went to sentrum to explore Saturday. The outdoor market was in full swing, as was a gay-lesbian festival. There were all kinds of freebies (including pancakes with sour cream and blueberry jam - yum!) and some very very good live music happening. The city was celebrating 60 years of equality for gays and lesbians in Norway... that sounds like a long time. Norway is one of the most equal nations in the world - 3rd in gender equity (behind Iceland and Finland) - so it shouldn't be too surprising. (U.S. is #31 according to the 2009 World Economic Forum report).

We went shopping and ended up at the fish market where we ate fiskesuppe (fish soup). They all thought that the afternoon of people-watching and seeing everyday life was one of the highlights of the week.

This morning, everyone went home. It was a brilliant two weeks of visitors, and now we can look forward to a little quiet time and getting back to normal.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A few scenes from around town

Here's a few other pics from the visit. Our trip to Kritiansten festning, very close to our house:

And here we are exploring downtown at night... outside of the cathedral, and inside and out of the gigaphone, a giant megaphone that was a gift from NTNU to the city for the university's 100th anniversary next week. I was skeptical when I saw the picture in the paper, but this thing is actually pretty cool. The acoustics inside are crazy! There's also a picture of some performance artists we saw in downtown. Fun!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Conference and Pam's 40th

Rob, our final visitor arrived this morning and so were ready for our conference. The four of us, Dave, Mark, Rob, and myself, have met every year someplace in the world to have our own conference, which includes academic presentations. This is our 10th anniversary and our first meeting in Europe, so it was a bit special. We walked down to Solsiden, investigated a few restaurants, and decided on Bare Blåbær as our venue. Sitting around a big table we shared our research, ate and drank, and left several hours later with full bellies and full brains.

In the evening, we returned downtown to celebrate Pam's 40th birthday (today!) at Khao Thai restaurant, the best place in Trondheim for authentically spicy food.

It was a successful conference for me, and a very happy birthday for Pam!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tour East

We make the tour to the east: Hegra festning, Runes at Leirfall, Steinvikholmen. I've done this tour many times, but I STILL like it! This time, though, at Hegra festning I worked on my laptop while my friends explored. It's maybe better to explore this place on your own anyways. My son Peter attacked me with pinecones while I sat in the sun working, yelling "Take that, Nazi!" Some other tourists got a chuckle out of that. This fortress was used in defense of the Nazi invasion in 1940.

On Steinvikholmen, we play some serious Kubb, or Kongespill, a wonderful outdoor game played with blocks of wood. Somehow, we got lucky with the weather this week. We've had bad weather for all of our visitors this year, but this week it's been glorious fall weather like you might find anywhere during the fall. Except of course that it's still supposed to be summer.

The tide went out while we were on Steinvikholmedn, so we could walk back without using the bridge. Nice!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bymarka overnight

Dave arrived on Monday, guest #3 of 4 expected this week. After a mad evening of Rock Band Monday night, and a day at the university (I do need to work occasionally) and downtown on Tuesday, we headed back to Bymarka. This time we would stay overnight at Allan's hytte. The trek in felt like it took a long time, encumbered as we were with food, beer and musical instruments, but soon we arrived at the little cabin in the woods and set up shop. The hytte has neither electricity or running water, which is a big part of the charm. Only natural entertainment out here!

Late afternoon we walked to a spot Allan had recommended, a swimming spot on the north shore of Bjorksjønna, one of countless lakes in the area. It took a while to find the spot, but we found it – a picnic area built into the side of a rock. There was a grill, benches, guest book, and a variety of "gifts"... candies and tools and such. We didn't take any of the gifts, but we signed the book and left a pack of gum for future visitors, and headed down to the water.

I went in ankle deep, and I found that was plenty enough water for me. Today was gloriously mild, but the summer's been very cold and this water held the memory. I don't know what the temperature was, but I think maybe it was at the temperature right between where ice turns into water. Dave went waist deep (photo below), and Mark bless his soul went all the way in. Very bold!

Allan visited us later in the evening, and by the light of gas lamps we cooked pølse, sang along to the guitar, and played games until 4 in the morning. Before bed, we wandered out to a field and marveled at the zillions of stars and shimmering band of the milky way overhead. It was an incredibly special night, and somehow we even felt refreshed the next day.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bymarka tur

I don't know if it was a good idea or a bad idea. After Mark and Gao Qi had flown for 20 hours and then we spent the night dancing, the next morning we went for a walk in Bymarka. Bymarka is the huge natural area adjoining the city, and I had never been there in the summer. It sounded kind of boring actually, just walking around outdoors. Boy was I wrong.

We brought bags with us, hoping to find some mushrooms. We didn't find any, but we found sheep, gorgeous viewpoints, lots of blueberries, and fields thick moss that were perfect for stretching out upon and resting.

Afterwards, we stopped at Skistua, one of many rest centers that are open on the weekends. We had cinnamon rolls and coffee and reflected on what a fine afternoon it had been. It was a very pleasant surprise. I finally see why this area is so popular with the locals.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Friends Mark and Gao Qi arrived from the U.S. today, kicking off a second week of visitors.

What a welcome we had for them – A-ha!, the pop-rock band from the 80s is starting their farewell tour and played Trondheim tonight. They are the only Norwegian pop group to make it big on the international scene (unless you count Abba, which is mostly Swedish but one of the members is half-Norwegian. OK, that doesn't really count.) We accompanied our (local) friend Elisabeth to the concert, my first time inside Lerkendal stadium (home of world famous Rosenborg Football Klub).

And wow! What a concert! They put on an exceptional show, with good theatrics and great visuals. Most of Trondheim was there, I think. We sang and danced until late into the night, then walked 3,5 km home again with "Take On Me" ringing in our ears. It was a good blast from my high school days.