Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween

The school had a big Halloween party the Friday before Halloween. Peter has been in love with his black leather hat he bought in Paris so he dressed up like a mafia-guy. Anna was a cat (and later a witch for another party and later another costume for trick-or-treating). Maggie dressed up as "the scariest thing I could think of – a princess!"

We went to another party on Sunday that some friends have every year. Fantastic food, decorations, costume contest, pinata. It was a superb weekend.

We had a lot of pumpkins this year, and the kids did great jobs carving them. I drew the face I wanted on my pumpkin, but Maggie had a friend over who had never carved a pumpkin before, so I let her do it for me. (It was a funny realization that I got more pleasure watching a child enjoy something than I would have gotten by doing it myself. I guess I'm getting old!)


Some first-time pumpkin carvers


We had a lot of trick-or-treaters this year. Last year we got only about 6, there were 20 or 30 this year. All of them were amazed with our six glowing jack-o-lanterns on the porch. Halloween is very new to Norway, only starting to get popular about 5 years ago. People haven't figured it out yet. The younger generation loves Halloween and the older generation hates it. But it's been growing and growing and I'm pretty sure it's here to stay in Norway.




Friday, October 28, 2011

House take-over

We signed the final paper on our new house. The owner gave us permission to begin moving in things early, but today is the official take-over date. The final step of the real-estate purchase process it to meet the seller at the house and sign a document that says the house is clean and in good order, record the water and electric meter readings, and receive all the keys.

We did it! We got a house! There will be some work to do before moving our things in, but we have two months before we need to out of our rental house, so there is time.

Here's a picture of us on the balcony right after take-over. As you can tell from the pic, the autumn weather has been glorious and mild.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Moving begins!

Several friends came over today to help us begin moving! 4 loads were taken from garage to garage, a light work load. We will try to do a little at a time, moving the non-essential things up. We have some work to do inside the house before we occupy it. I'd like to get the bulk of the moving done before it begins to snow, and with the temperature dropping this past week it's getting more and more likely!

We ordered a heatpump for the house today too. Prices have come way done, and the local discount building store had a great deal that includes installation and 10 month no fee no interest financing. That's perfect for us, because we're going to need to live skinny for a few months now that we've picked up a big expense and are paying double for housing (the new house and our house that we're renting for two more months). Well, triple for housing if you count the mortgage I'm paying on our house in the U.S.A.!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hospital

I went to the doctor's to get my various maladies examined. Yep, I got a hernia, and yep I got some fluid around my lung. We've scheduled the hernia operation, but that could take 3 or 4 weeks. They'll send me a letter when they have it scheduled. Medical things which are not high priority can take a long time in Norway, like I found out last winter when I injured my arm and it took six weeks to get a diagnosis. By then, the arm had healed! (Magic!)

But the lung was a more serious issue, so I was sent directly to the hospital for x-rays. They kept me overnight and stuck a tube in me the next day to drain the fluids. Now they're determining the cause, but at least I can breathe again and I'm on my way to recovery.

The doctor's visit, by the way, cost the equivalent of $50. All of the hospital work and procedures are free. Parking at the hospital for 8 hours cost $30. You could get all kinds of extensive work done at the hospital for no charge, but they'll get you on parking! Maybe that's how they afford to provide healthcare...

Monday, October 17, 2011

House

We're buying a house! We've been to many viewings and even placed bids on a couple of places, but the bidding has always skyrocketed. Somehow we managed to get this one, and it's just about perfect.

Real estate purchase is strange in Norway. An open house is held and bidding starts immediately. SMS updates are sent your phone to announce the latest bid, and if you want to bid over you need to do so within hours. The sale is usually over in a day. And at the bidding wars we've seen, the price is usually way above asking.

I wasn't sure we'd be able to get a house in town that we could afford. Housing prices are really crazy here, and getting more expensive all the time. The folk wisdom is to buy something sooner rather than later and get into the system or else the prices will outrun you. We've been renting for the past three years, paying about $2600 month. Buying a house means much lower payments.

This house came to market right behind where we're living now, next door to some very good friends, in the neighborhood we love close to school and work, and with an amazing view of downtown and the fjord. The house is small (113 square meters/1130 square feet) but passable, and we can build on later. It also includes a strip of land up the hill, so we have our own slice of cliff. There's a two-car garage and good parking at street level. The house needs updating, but it's entirely good as it is.

We were the high bidders with our bid below the asking price, but the owners insisted we meet the asking price which we did.

We won the bid a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't want to post until I knew we actually got it. We signed the contract today. And because our rental contact extends a bit longer we'll have a leisurely move-in period and some time to do a few improvements before we move in.

We're very pleased to have found a house we can afford right in the neighborhood we wanted. A new adventure awaits!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Paris day 7: Versailles

First this picture of a train stop on the way to Versailles. You probably need to be Norwegian to appreciate it:

Today was time for our dose of history. As expected, Pam loved it, the kids hated it, I thought it was just okay. Old palace, old stuff. I like the gardens, but they were so HUGE that you need to walk a long long way to appreciate it. I’d like something a bit denser where you could take more in. They do rent electric golf carts, and if we were feeling rich this would have been the way to go.

We signed up for a guided tour and that was all right. We all had earphones so we could clearly hear the guide at all times. The highlight was at the beginning when the tail end of the group, including our family, got cut off from the rest of the group. We were in the courtyard frantically looking for the group, when we heard the guide saying over our earpieces “Hello, we are over here!” “Where?” I yelled waving my arms. “Over HERE!” she said again, over the earpiece and not yelling or giving us any kind of clue as to which direction 'over here' was. It was amusing and irritating and utterly unhelpful. Finally she walked up to us. “Couldn’t you hear me on the earphone?” she asked.

The other good part when when she explained how Louis XV would gather no more than 20 people together for dinner each night and they were allowed to talk about anything except for politics. It was these dinners, she explained, that started the tradition of enjoying conversation at meal times. So we have King Louis XV of France to thank for thinking of the idea of having conversations while eating. Yay! Thanks King Louis!

The most impressive part of the palace was the opera house, built in something like 10 months. Absolutely gorgeous. A raised floor could be placed over the main floor seating to transform the room into a ballroom.

My favorite parts were the statues in the garden of half-frog, half-men creatures. Weird.
My least favorite was the art exhibit where chunks of rusted iron are strewn about the palace. In another setting, the art would be quite nice. In this setting, it looks comically out of place!

We spent a good chunk of the day at the palace, then back for our own meal times and conversations. Pam and Anna went on an outing to a Japanese restaurant while I stayed home, still feeling sick.

Tomorrow, back to Norway.





Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paris day 6: Girl shopping vs. guy shopping


The girls went shopping in Lafayette while the guys did our own "shopping". In this case, the guys' version of shopping involved walking up to Montmarne and plunking ourselves down at a cafe for a couple glasses of wine. It was delightful to just sit and be and watch. A scissors artist cut a portrait of Chris, simply a ‘demonstration’ he said, and while we watched another walked up and did one of me. I thought it was a really great job and thought that I would pay 5 euros for that, which was exactly the price he offered.

 
The guys wax philosophic while the artists make their rounds

In the evening we rejoined the ladies at the apartment for wine and cheese. It was a simple day, which suits me well as I continue to be sick. It’s been tricky to enjoy Paris when you can't eat, walk or breathe. I’ve never felt gimpier.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Paris day 5: Fondu

Jack and Zabby and Hanna arrived. We split into two groups, the nappers and the shoppers and did our various things. Later in the day we split off into three groups, agreeing to meet later for dinner. Pam and the kids and I tubed down to the Cité stop and hiked past Notre Dame to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. This used bookstore has books covering nearly every surface and was a joy to experience. We then wandered in the neighborhood, drooling over the variety of good-looking restaurants. This area was overloaded with creperies, and we decided to finally get a few crepes ourselves from a stand in the street outside of a Hagen-Daas shop. It was fun watching the guy roll out the batter perfectly every time. I wonder how many crepes he’s made? Must be thousands.

A little more shopping and wandering, and then off to the north side near the Sacre Coeur where we were yesterday to find our restaurant: Refuse du Fondu. Pam found this restaurant in her Paris travel guide, and it was a good choice. The dining room was narrow and cramped, the walls covered in graffiti. They brought out a plate of appetizers immediately, then the pots of cheese and oil. Mmmmm... very good. Their signature at this restaurant is serving wine in baby bottles, by doing so they avoid the wine tax that the city levies on each “glass” of wine. We thought it was a bit ridiculous at first, but it turned out to be quite fun.

Back at apartment, our guests went to promptly to bed after having admirably battled sleep deprivation. The kids settled in to watch “The Pink Panther Returns” and experience some more French culture.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Paris day 4: Charming!

Outside of the Sacre Coeur, a fine view of the city
Chris has spent quite a bit of time in Paris, so he knew some interesting places to go. We started today going to Sacre Coeur church up a hill with a fine view of the city. We walked quietly around inside of the church. A service was going on; the sign said that there has been prayer going on in the church non-stop for 125 years. We looped around the outside, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the rows of vending machines where you could buy souvenir medallions and the two gift shops inside the church (“My parents went to Sacre Coeur and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt”). You could also increase your chances of your prayer being heard by buying candles in 1 euro, 3 euro or diety attention-grabbing 10 euro sizes. The church was lovely, but the commercialism was a bit much.

Inside of the Sacre Coeur... gift shops and souvenir vending machines
Outside the church little trains would take you to Montmartre, a shopping and cafe district, but we walked instead. While Pam and Anna went shopping, the rest of sat in a cafe drinking cola and beer and wine while sketching in our books. At one point, an old artist with his art case walked up to us, glanced at our sketchbooks, and left with a smile on his face. I hope he was smiling because he was pleased that we were drawing, and not smiling because our pictures were so bad!

On the other side of the court, rows and rows of artists were set up, selling art or sketching portraits. Their portraits were amazing and impressive. A paper cutter quickly snipped out an unsolicited portrait of Anna that was very cute; Pam offered him 2 euros for it but he insisted on 15. We politely declined.

We then wandered through the streets, and this was the real Paris we were looking for. Charming alleys, gardens, parks. Beautiful atmosphere. Chris suggested we eat at a brasserie, where one can find real French food for a reasonable price. So we stopped for lunch at a brasserie called “Pari’s Cafe” and had an exceptional lunch for a reasonable cost. The waiter was wonderful and enjoyed playing with the kids.

After a while, we found ourselves in Pigalle and poked around in some shops, reaching the famous Moulin Rogue just at dusk.

We were all pretty tired now, so back to the apartment for pizza and Doctor Who episodes.


A vineyard in the middle of the city
The Agile Rabbit


Peter found a new brother at the brasserie

Towers of macaroons... mmmmm!
Picture of a famous thing

Monday, October 10, 2011

Paris day 3: Bus Tour

First the Metro to Angelina’s, which our guidebook hyped as the best hot chocolate in Paris. It’s a very fancy-looking restaurant, very Paris. We tried to buy just 3 hot chocolates to share, but the waitress told us 5 seats, 5 drinks. So, 5 hot chocolates. At 7,20 euros times 5, this was an expensive treat. The chocolate came in jugs with dishes of fresh whipped cream, and was rich and lovely but too strong for the children. We could drink only half of what they brought, and the waitress perhaps feeling sorry that we had tried to order what was reasonable and she pushed us to order more, charged us 10 euros less.

Maggie practicing looking Parisian
$10 hot chocolate at Angelina's
After chocolate, we found an English bookstore, WH Smith, back near the Concord plaza. Pam bought some books and I bought some sketchbooks for the family. (We would soon lose Peter for the next two days with head buried in the latest Percy Jackson book.)

All of this walking in the past couple of days has been taking a toll on me (along with stomach troubles I also have some kind of lung problems and a hernia – good things come in threes I suppose!) So today we planned something a little easier, a bus tour. We boarded Le Car Rogue tourbus and just rode around for a couple of hours on the top of the double-decker bus, listening to the tour and snapping touristy pictures. At the stops, instead of hopping off we stayed on the bus and made sketches in our new books. Very nice.

On the bus, Maggie sketched and Peter read
Spotted from the bus: my new favorite statue ever. Someday I want a statue like this made of me, boldly standing there naked with my business in the wind while wild horse rush past me crushing my enemies. Awesome
We finally hopped off at the opera house and found a bathroom in the J3 department store. Finally we called it a day and went back to our neighborhood for dinner at a fabulous vegetarian Indian restaurant and to wait for our first guest.

Pam’s father Jack and girlfriend Zabby and her goddaughter would be joining us Wednesday morning, and Zabby’s goddaughter’s boyfriend would be joining us tonight. We’d never met him, but were told he’s an astrobiologist so how bad could he be?

At 8:38 pm there’s a knock on the door and a shaggy man comes in the entrance. “Hi I’m Chris, sorry I’ll socialize in a few minutes but I hope I can use your internet because I’ve got a NASA proposal that needs to be turned in in the next 22 minutes.”

Without any further words or introduction I simply nod and tell him “proceed,” which he does.

Afterwards Chris and I went out to get cheese, sausages and wine and the grownups sat around socializing while the kids read their books.

It was an easy day, Paris-”lite” perhaps.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Paris day 2: Louvre and Notre Dame

The food shops are beautiful, even in our neighborhood the bakeries are beautiful. As I am experiencing stomach troubles (one of three ailments I'm currently enjoying), I could only stare longingly at the amazing goodies piled high in window after window. Life is never fair.

After breakfast, we headed out for a walking tour. We started at the Concord Plaza and after spending a few minutes trying to orient ourselves, found the right direction towards the Louvre. We walked though a long park filled with statues and flowers and hedges, and the kids spent several delightful minutes trying to catch pigeons or push them into the pond.

We reached the Louvre and marveled at the glass pyramids. The fountains were drained and Peter and Anna ran about on them excited about something. They showed me later: they had collected a hundred small coins from the floor of the fountain, coins of little value from all over the world. They’re all a bit rusty but we’ll clean them off later and see what they’ve found.

Desperate for lunch, we committed a terrible sin and went into a fast food restaurant. Yeah yeah I know, but they advertised chicken nuggets that the kids love, and it was a good chance to get French Fries, which was only of my goals for the trip. Ugh. Big mistake. The chain, called “Quick”, has disorganized service, was out of most of the menu items, and my seafood salad was pretty bad. I don’t think we saved that much money over a French restaurant. Oh well, it was pretty quick, and we needed the break.

We headed south past the Hotel de Ville, where we stopped to let the kids play with a man creating giant soap bubbles to the delight of many children. He let the kids take turns making the bubbles as his bucket filled with euro coins. Pam remarked that it’s possible to make money doing anything in this city.

Next stop, the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Yeah, it’s nice. The line stretched so long, much longer than our patience, so we decided to just walk around the outside and perhaps return later. We didn’t see the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but we saw the Pigeons of Notre Dame, the Sandbox of Notre Dame, the Parking Lot of Notre Dame, the Toilets of Notre Dame, and a shop called the Juggler of Notre Dame.

Money idea: Pam and I talked about coming back with me dressed as the hunchback and she as Esmeralda. We’d make a killing off of tourists taking pictures with us.

The Pigeons of Notre Dame
The Juggler of Notre Dame
From here we walked up to Cité and found a marketplace full of caged birds and gerbils and rabbits and the like. Strange and wonderful. Then back to the apartment for dinner and TV.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Paris day 1: Eiffel Tower at Night

The Metro, as we would discover again and again, is surprisingly easy to use. We transfered trains and chatted excitedly as the car barreled ahead through the darkness. Suddenly, “Oooohhh!” Pam pointed to the window behind me. I turned, and there it was. Our train had come out of a tunnel onto a bridge, and the Eiffel tower huge and magnificient glowed in the darkness before us. Our excitement was palpable as we exited and made our way up the street to the world’s most famous monument.

We stopped to buy a beret for Anna and a light up toy for Peter (yes Dad I know: “Don’t do that it will only encourage them!”) and then hurried onwards.


I don’t know what I expected. I don’t think I expected much. But standing beneath this massive metal structure lit up like a spaceship straight out of Battlestar Galactica was far, far above and beyond my expections. The monument was controversial and even hated at the time it was built, but I could not see how anyone could not love this beautiful tower. We wandered beneath, and when the hourly light show started at 9:00 we walked over to the adjacent park and lay down on the grass to watch. The light show is really just 5 minutes of sparkly lights, very bright like strobes, flashing all over and within the tower, as if it were filled with flash photographers at a fashion show. Just lovely.


We then walked across the street to a carousel, shelled out 3 euros a ticket to give the kids rides, and then back to the Metro station. On the ride home, a trumpet player wheeled an amplifier into our train car, started accompaniment tracks, and played several beautiful songs. We clapped for him (apart from the one other tourist on the train we were only ones who did so). We finished our ride back to the Chateau Rogue Metro station, to our apartment, and to bed.

Arrival in Paris

Clutching my hand tighter, she looked up at me with eyes like saucers. “Daddy, this place is horrible.” My youngest daughter had been looking forward to Paris for months. Always somewhat of a romantic, to her Paris was sure to be the most wonderful destination of all. Now we had bustled through the crowded Gate du Nord Metro station, packed into overstuffed subway cars, and come up into a street strewn with garbage and stinking of rotting meat. People pushed sunglasses and headphones at us, corn grilled on barrels in shopping carts, and empty cardboard boxes and banana peels covered the streets. This was nothing like the Paris any of us had imagined.

“It will get better, let’s just find our apartment,” I told her. It was a great relief when we did find our apartment, and in contrast to unclean world outside our doors, the apartment was luxurious, spacious, beautifully furnished and had a garden with a waterfall. The housekeeper who showed us in spoke no English, so we communicated with gestures and got the tour. This apartment would be superb.

Leaving the children to relax in the comfort and safety of our apartment, Pam and I walked down the grocery store, purchased exciting food including plenty of puddings (mmmm!), figured out how to use the produce scale price sticker printers, and returned for dinner and naps.

We awoke at 8 pm, and decided we needed an evening outing to see something in Paris to replace this bad vision. Off to the Metro again...

Camping in the parking lot

Meanwhile in Trondheim, Pam and the kids had been busy preparing for fall break. The plan: the family would drive 7 hours from Trondheim down to the Oslo airport and meet me as I got off the plane Friday night. We’d park the bus in long-term parking and sleep in it overnight, getting up early for our 8 am flight to Paris.

To facilitate sleeping arrangements, Pam and the kids had been working on building a wooden platform in the bus so suitcases could go under and a bed could go on top. They’d packed up and planned our trip in Paris and loaded the bus with food and supplies. I was a bit worried about them making that long trip without me, but I got a phone call from them while I was waiting at baggage claim saying they’d arrived at the airport. They’d had a fun trip with singing and shenanigans.

We met some friends who just happened to be at the airport that evening also and all had pizza together (small country). Then we took the shuttle bus back to long-term parking to our “portable cabin” for a cheap night’s sleeping arrangement. The beds worked great!

It was a much-to-early 6 am wakeup call, but we pulled ourselves together and got checked in in good time. Now we’re off to Paris! Adventure awaits!