This past weekend I had a fabulous time visiting my friend Trygve in Ganddal in western Norway. Here are a few stories.
(1) I flew on Lufthansa over, connecting in Frankfurt. The overnight transatlantic was pretty much miserable: I was stuck in coach surrounded by several crying babies and an overweight frenchman for 8+ hours. We finally landed in Germany after getting less than 1 hour sleep.
(2) I had a much more pleasant time in the Frankfurt airport during my 2.5 hr layover. They have a McDonalds, and yes I know that McDonalds isn't the best food and that it's not exactly a cross-cultural experience to fly all the way to Europe and eat McD's, but (a) it's better quality overseas, and (b) it's inexpensive and open in the morning. So I was able to get a 3EUR sandwich and coke instead of spending 10EUR in a woefully overpriced coffee shop.
(3) After enjoying a chicken biscuit, I struck up a conversation with a nice Egyptian guy who's currently working at Forsyth hospital in Winston-Salem (and was traveling back there after spending a month in Alexandria). He was very polite and I enjoyed our conversation. He was quite open with things on his mind, and shared that he had spent his last 10 days in Egypt "speed dating" a girl after being pressured by family to settle down and get married. He and I talked about dating, relationships, love and the sort in the context of cultural differences, and I really enjoyed his perspective. You know it's not all that much different from ours, even though American and Egyptian culture might - on the surface - seem pretty distinct. Anyway, as I said, it was a good hour-long conversation.
(4) The flight over to Norway was much smoother than the flight across the Atlantic. I was able to get a grouping of 3 seats together, so I spread out & rested for a few hours. The cloud patterns were also neat, and I got several good photos of clouds over northern Germany and Denmark. Once we got over southern Norway, we passed over some spectacular fjords and I snapped some good photos of them, too.
(5) Trygve met me at the Sola / Stavanger airport with one of his 5th grade students, Gabriel, and we enjoyed some question & answer time while driving back to school. Gabriel was very curious and asked me if I had a favorite color, if I liked and/or owned any Apple products, how many people were in my family, and things of that nature. I met some more of Trygve's students (Gabriel's classmates) who were practicing for their upcoming performance of the William Tell story (which they gave in English), and toured the school. Trygve and I went out after school ended to the coast and visited one of the local beaches. Then we headed into Stavanger to have some coffee. I normally don't drink much coffee, but I definitely took advantage of it while in Norway. I found that after the first night, I was pretty much over any jet lag.
(6) In Stavanger, we saw narrow pedestrian cobblestone streets, an old church, and several funny signs in English. I'll put some photos up soon.
(7) Trygve and I enjoyed a nice dinner of fish (me) and Texas-style steak (him). The only drawback? The cost. Mine was 179 NOK, which is about US$25. Norway is an expensive place!
(8) We headed home Thursday evening, stopping by the supermarket, and I turned in early to get some very-much-needed sleep.
(9) The next day, Friday, I spent the day at the school. Trygve works in a christian school, and the teachers get together each day to start with a short devotional (encouraging bible scriptures) and prayer. They meet at 8:00, and classes start at 8:15. The "homeroom" teachers also start their 8:15 classes with a devotion. Trygve invited me to give the devotion to his first class, 10th grade English, and I shared one of my favorite verses (from Isaiah), in English. Then we had a great time of question & answers about US & Norwegian cultures.
(10) After 10th grade English, we moved on to 6th grade English -- and they also had some great questions. Of course, the 10th graders asked questions like "Can you comment on the current state of race relations in the US south?", and the 6th graders asked questions like "Do you have a cat?" :-)
(11) Friday afternoon Trygve and I went jogging, and in the evening we cooked some excellent stir-fry (see photos below and try to guess what we cooked!). In the night, we joined up with 6 other guys and played the most excellent sport of Curling!! I only fell about a dozen times: several of them were just pushing off the block, and the rest were just random. I'm still bruised from all the contact with the ice. The team with Trygve and I ended up loosing 13-4 (a true spanking).
(12) Saturday we drove out of town a bit (even crossing on a short 10-minute ferry) on our way to Preikestolen. Now what is Preikestolen you may ask? Well, it's a 2-hr one-way hike up to a spectacular granite cliff that forms the wall of a fjord. The cliff drops off from a pinnacle nearly 2000 feet tall straight down to the water below. Our hike was peaceful (if a bit chilly), and we were treated to some amazing views along the way. My fear of heights prevented us from heading up another 20 meters to the highest point (and I kinda regret it now), which was a lookout spot above the trail, but we had some great views along the trail.
(13) I spent my last night in Norway at a concert put on by some friends from Trygve's church, and after the concert Trygve, his co-worker and my new friend Monica, and I went into Sandnes for my favorite fast-food on the planet: KEBAB! I love it! It's the "meat on a spit" that slowly turns and is carved off, thrown into a pita bread with some chopped onions & lettuce, and covered in sauce. It's FABULOUS. Topped off with a Coke, it was a great "last supper" in the country!
(14) My return flight left Stavanger at 10 a.m., and after the 1.5 hr hop to London-Heathrow, I spent the next 4.5 hrs resting and people-watching. Heathrow is a gigantic airport with people from literally all countries in the world (for example, Iranian Air jet landed next to ours and we passed through the security checkpoints together), so the people-watching was interesting. I enjoyed trying to guess where people were from, and I was pleased with my ability to pick out the other passengers on the United flight back to Washington-Dulles. At the check-in counter at the gate, I had to exchange my boarding card for a new one printed by United (they had to check my passport), and I casually asked if there were any seats with more leg room available. The gate agent initially tried to sell me an upgrade to "Economy Plus" for $120, and I politely declined him. As it was walking away, though, he called me back to the counter (practically yelling at me to return!) and said that there might instead be an exit row available (for free) in Economy section. Sure enough, there was, and I flew back to the USA with lots of extra legroom! This more than made up for my misery on the Lufthansa flight over.
(15) Once I got through immigration & customs (Washington-Dulles is a ridiculous airport in that there are numerous bottlenecks to prevent people from moving quickly or efficiently through the airport... those stupid "people-moving buses" are one, ridiculously narrow - one-person-wide - corridors to herd arriving int'l passengers toward immigration are another...), I caught the shuttle bus back to the Green Lot to find my car. I had written down that I'd parked in row 14-C Green, and when I made it to 14-C, I realized it would be harder than I thought to find my car -- line 14-C was probably 500 feet long!! I wandered all around that section (going as far as row 30-C and back to row 8-C after second-guessing myself), and finally after about 10 minutes, found my car -- sitting just as I'd written down (14-C) but way down at the other end from the bus drop point. Anyway, I guess a bit of exercise didn't hurt me, but after a 21-hr transit day, all I wanted to do was get home and get to sleep.
I'll post some pictures later.... too tired to get 'em up tonight. All in all, it was a fabulous adventure and I am forever indebted to Trygve for his hospitality in hosting me!