London and Rebel Girls

Last week the girls had a week long fall break from school (a side benefit of having no Thanksgiving in Norway is that the first fall break is a reasonable distance from the winter holiday break) So, we took the opportunity as a family to visit London. This was the first time I’d been to London and the first time John was able to visit for a long period of time (having had an 8 hour layover in London last March.) We had a wonderful visit which was unexpectedly themed to include quite a few extraordinary girls and women we call “Rebel Girls” because of the incredible “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” books by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo.

The first rebel girl we saw was a fictional one- Matilda. Last spring we read Matilda as a family because Maddie’s dance recital in Middletown was choreographed to the song “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty” from the Matilda musical. As a belated birthday present to Maddie, my parents bought us tickets to see Matilda the musical in London the day after we arrived. The show was very entertaining, the sets were fantastic and of course we loved the moral of the story. Even Ada enjoyed it (and lately has been playing with a toy lizard and imitating Ms. Trunchbull by shouting- “There’s a newt in my knickers!”)

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This fall Maddie has continued to be obsessed with books like Matilda because her class has been reading books by Roald Dahl (like Esio Trot and Fantastic Mr. Fox) in class. Also, because Maddie’s class is visiting the Freia chocolate factory this winter, Maddie was excited to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at home. So, at the end of our trip, at Maddie’s request, we visited the Roald Dahl museum in Great Missenden, England (according to a parent at OiS who lives 10 minutes from the town, it is nicknamed “Great Miss”) which is just outside London. There we got to see the chair where Roald Dahl wrote his books, learn about Roald Dahl’s life and where he got inspiration for his books and we got to see the Matilda vs Donald Trump statue which was unveiled in October to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Matilda. Isn’t Trump the perfect modern day enemy of Matilda (at least that’s what 42% of respondent’s to a survey by The Roald Dahl story thought)?

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On Monday the day after Matilda, we toured Cambridge with Elena Sakkalou a friend of mine from Davidson. She is a rebel girl of her own sort, working at the University College of London researching vision and cognition in infants while raising two adorable kids in Cambridge.

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In Cambridge we got to take a break at “The Eagle” pub where Watson and Crick lunched while they were researching DNA and later we got to see Rosalind Franklin’s bio, another rebel girl, at the King’s College London where she did her work on x-ray crystallography which led to the discovery of DNA.

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Tuesday the girls played at Princess Diana’s memorial playground which had this incredible sculpture:

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We also had high tea at the restaurant next to Kensington Palace (where Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Prince William, Kate and their children have their official residence):

and saw a statue of another rebel girl, Queen Victoria.

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Wednesday while seeing Parliament, we saw the new (as of last Spring) statue of Millicent Fawcett who campaigned for women’s right to vote in the early 20th century and was one of the most influential feminists in the past 100 years:

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Of course a few parts of our trip had nothing to do with rebel girls- we saw the changing of the guard’s a the royal palace,

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We went to the Natural History Museum in London where Maddie and Ada had a ton of fun investigating natural specimen’s by measuring them, weighting them, and looking at them under magnifying glasses:


We also got to tour the Science Museum and Museum of Childhood. We also went to Hamley’s, the world’s largest toy store, where Maddie bought a present (a mechanical dog that looks like Bonnie) with birthday money from Grandma and Aunt Susanne. (sorry I was too busy chasing kids to take a good pic!)

We also loved riding the double decker buses and taking the London Underground everywhere. The London Underground has 11 lines which is pretty incredible to me since it is way more than other cities I’ve lived in (DC has 6 lines, Oslo has 5 lines and Atlanta has only 2)! Maddie wants me to mention that the Jubilee line and our first train to Great Missenden were not running when we needed them. Maddie’s favorite line was the Victoria line. 

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And here are a few bonus photos of our trip- At the Roald Dahl museum we found out that Maddie is just as tall as Matilda and Ada loved sitting in Roald Dahl’s writing chair.

A few more pics from the natural history museum. Maddie wanted to show the Turtle shell to Zoey because she and Zoey (with the eco-kids club) are trying to convince others to save sea turtles by skipping the straw.

A few pics from Cambridge- John and I next to the mathematical bridge, the Corpus Clock unveiled in 2008 by Stephen Hawking featuring a beast called the “chronophage” or time eater, and punting down the River Cam.

Maddie and Ada having a blast with Lida and Andrew, Elena’s husband and daughter, at one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants in Cambridge.

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A pic of an egyptian Pharaoh at our Airbnb which Maddie and Ada made into a shrine- offering him presents such as chocolate, jelly beans, berries and leaves they found around London. Also, a pic of me in the ever present London telephone booths.

Finally, the creative way Maddie and Ada decided to ride to our gate in the London Stansted Airport:

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The Loppemarked

A loppemarked (literally translated to flea market) is exactly that- A huge assortment of items for sale that you would find in any typical home. In the US, most of the flea markets I’ve seen are run out of a fixed location and operated seasonally by people make their living from the flea market as well as those who want to make money off their wares. In Norway, flea markets are quite different. They are basically huge yard sales organized by an organization, usually a school, that gets a lot of volunteers to help over a weekend. The volunteers are usually kids and other adults who are designated by a bright reflective vest. The proceeds usually go to the organization and the items are donated from members of the community. We’ve been told by several people that loppemarkeds in Norway usually happen in either the fall or the spring and they are great places to buy used skiing equipment.

We’ve been to three loppemarkeds so far and the kids and I love them. At them you can find separate areas for toys, clothes for men, women, and children, sports equipment (skis, skates, bikes, you name it), appliances, housewares, and picture. Since everything is donated and run by volunteers, everything tends to be very cheap.

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I come from a family which takes some pride on being frugal or at least finding good deals on purchases which, as John will attest, has manifested itself in my life as being unwilling to spend money on much of anything. (In fact, I remember as a girl being quite pleased with gifts from my grandfather’s brother (who was by no means poor) from his regular dumpster diving trips.)

My work in sustainability has only strengthened this impulse as I see every purchase as having a large amount of negative consequences for both people and our planet both up and down the supply chain as well as the waste of the product being discarded once it is no longer needed. Add to all of that the fact that we are in Norway where everything is at least 50% more expensive than the US and the fact that we literally can not bring home more items than those we brought here, my aversion to buying anything new here has only strengthened. Despite or perhaps because of all of this, I love shopping at loppemarked’s especially because there are quite a few things most Norwegian’s have for the winter that we simply didn’t bring from the states. Since the burden of both the cost and the guilt of the environmental impact of the item has been born (mostly) by someone else I don’t mind buying a low cost item that will not only help our family enjoy the winter here, but also benefits the school where we bought the item, and in April will benefit the international school’s loppemarked (which I’ve already signed up to help with and will happily donate everything we can’t carry with us back to the states). Anyway, here are a few purchases we’ve made so far at the loppemarked’s:

  • Toys (at two loppemarked’s we allowed Maddie and Ada to pick out one toy which cost a total of $2 which totally made their day.) I went to one this past weekend by myself to do a little Christmas shopping and came back with a large bag of toys for $30 which made my day.
  • Skis- we bought cross country skis, boots and poles for all four of us and downhill skis for me all for $200.
  • Ice Skates- So far we have ice skates for me, Maddie and John bought for $40 total.
  • Sled- $6
  • Norwegian Waffle maker (we’ve been making Norwegian waffles every weekend since and they are amazing) and hand blender stick/whisk (for warm winter soups)- $30

 

September happenings

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—I need to write an update of everything that has been happening at the University—things are getting pretty busy. But in the meantime, here’s a bunch of stuff that happened in the last month.

Ada got a scooter, which she’s riding everywhere.
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More silly antics on the bus.
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In early September, we went to a festival in Oslo celebrating food from all over Norway. One of the coolest things was this stockfish, a dried fish that you have to hit with a hammer in order to loosen up edible bits. We all bought Norwegian food for dinner but our favorite was the fiske soup- a creamy fish soup with chive oil on top.
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We’ve gotten some use out of our rain gear, but it hasn’t been a necessity until we went to Bergen for a long weekend (post forthcoming). Here’s a photo of the girls walking to school in the rain.
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Diana and I went on a date to tour the Norwegian Opera house, which was amazing. I’m excited to go back there to see a ballet performance this Saturday.
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This was the stage for the ballet production of Hamlet. Each step of the stage could articulate in or out, while the huge door in the center moved around in a circle. It was some incredible stagecraft.

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Here’s a photo of Ada and her friend Kiana whose parents are from Iran waiting for the start of school.
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I’ve always loved the sunsets in Delaware, but I’ve discovered that beautiful sunsets happen in Norway, too.
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One Friday night we went to the Oslo Teknisk Museum for culture night. The kids got to enjoy liquid nitrogen ice cream and make paper rockets. I definitely want to go back to this museum.
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Here’s the launch of Ada’s rocket.

Here’s a cute picture of Ada and Maddie walking through Sæteren Gård after the OIS family hike.
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Maddie and Ada also made a fun reading nook in our apartment by pushing out the bed from the wall.

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One weekend in September, we took a short trip to Bæerums Verk, a historic town west of us for a small festival.

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Jumping into hay

Listening to some Norwegian folk singers.
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On the fall equinox, we went down to central Oslo for a festival where we listened to a couple of bands perform, and walked along the Akerselva river, which was lit with luminaries, and featured a number of art and music performances along the walk.

Ada loved listening to the marching bands before the walk got started.

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Here’s some art we saw along the way.
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On weekends, it’s pretty common for organizations (mostly schools) to hold Loppemarked—a giant flea market, featuring all all sorts of things for sale, along with Norwegian waffles and polse (hot dogs), all of which you can pay for using your smartphone.
We landed an amazing deal at this market—$100 for cross country skis and boots for the family.

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Later that day we went to Folk Museum. Here’s Maddie with Princess, a toy she found at the Loppemarked, that we tragically lost at a bus stop a few hours later.

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After school on Tuesdays, Maddie has been taking cooking class with a French chef. Here’s one of her creations.
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Diana and I also went on a date to Fornebu, a peninsula into the Oslofjord that was once the main airport, but as you can see, has now been redeveloped into a beautiful park.
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Another weekend adventure took us to the botanical gardens. Here are pictures of Maddie and Ada “posing.” Maddie is wearing a very thick Norwegian sweater we bought at a thrift store.

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Recycling and Waste in Norway

I am continually surprised by how good Norway is at recycling and waste as compared to the US. Only 2% of waste in Norway ends up in a landfill as compared to 54% of waste in the US. Isn’t that incredible? Want to know how they do it. Here goes:

24% of waste is recycled. I’m actually surprised this number isn’t higher because close to 97% of all soda cans and plastic bottles are recycled because of their PANT system (compared to 30% in the US) . Norwegians pay an extra 10-25 cents to buy a drink in a bottle and get that money back when they recycle it at their local grocery store. This system helps reduce litter in the city because people are more than happy to pick up a bottle on the street (or even take it out of the trash can) so they can get refunded money for it and I think the system probably makes Norwegians a little healthier because soda is just that much more expensive.

Maddie and Ada have gotten in the habit of picking up trash and recycling to help sea turtles (as Ada said this morning “We have to pick up the trash so the sea turtles won’t eat it.”) Just yesterday Maddie found an aluminum can on the street on the way to school. We had a little time before school started, so Maddie returned it at the grocery store on the way to school, got a receipt for approximately  2 kr (25 cents) and proudly shared her story with her class. She wants to use her money from PANTing to buy candy for herself, Ada and two friends from school who she has playdates with this weekend.

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Here is a pic of Ada PANTing some the other two bottles we have collected since living here:

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Besides PANTing, Norwegians are able to recycle not only the harder plastics like we do in the US but also the more flexible plastic food packaging and bags. I think this is because in the US most of our recycling goes into one container (single stream) and the plastic bags and other food packaging gets easily caught and stuck in the motors that separate out the other recycling at the recycling plant. Because Norwegians separate out their own recycling at home, they can accept almost all types of plastic for recycling. Here is a pic of what plastics they accept as well as what our plastic recycling trash can looks like in our apartment building:

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In Delaware, the recycling facility told me that if the recyclables from St. Andrew’s School were contained in a plastic bag or trash can liner, they would reject the whole thing because their facility doesn’t accept flexible plastics. It is so nice here that people don’t have to worry about that.

Norwegians also individually separate out paper from recycling which is probably the only way to do it these days. China has stopped taking some of the paper recycling in the US because it is too contaminated (too wet) because of the other recyclables in the single stream recycling system. It’s nice to know when I recycle paper in Norway that it most definitely is getting recycled.

Unfortunately, recycling metal and glass in Norway is harder than in the states. Instead of recycling them at the curb or in your apartment building, you have to carry your glass and metal to central collection places near the grocery store like this one. I’m a little suprised that it’s harder because metal at least is the most valuable recyclable of them all:

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Norwegians also compost 14% of their waste. The city of Oslo makes composting super easy- they provide you with the composting bags for free (we can pick them up in our apartment building or at the local library among other places) and you deposit it right next to where you deposit your other waste.

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Therefore close to 14% of all waste in Oslo is composted or made into biogas. Not all buses in Oslo currently run on biogas but a lot of them do. Ruter’s goal is to have their entire bus fleet be fossil fuel free by 2020 and be one third electric by 2025 which is pretty incredible.

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So what is left? Not that much. In the US most kitchen trash cans are quite large, but in Norway, every single one we have seen is about pretty small. In fact, most of the residents in our apartment complex use shopping bags for their unrecyclable/uncompostable waste because they are just the right size for the small amount of waste that is left. Here is a pic of our trash can and of the types of bags you see thrown out here (notice not many people buy their own trash bag liners):

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In the US almost all of this waste (54%) goes to a landfill. The other 12% is sent to waste to energy facilities in the US. In Norway, they send all of their leftover waste (57%) to a waste to energy incinerator and 2% to landfills. There are a ton of these facilities throughout Europe I’m guessing this is because land in Europe is at a premium. Norway does lead the way in turning waste into energy. Norway has three plants in all, the plant in Oslo creates enough heat for 4,000 homes and enough electricity for all the school’s in Oslo. The incinerators themselves are financially viable because they make half of their profits from creating electricity and heat from waste and the other half from fees charged to dispose of waste. Because of this heat, the City of Oslo plans to have all heating in the city be fossil fuel free by 2020. They also plan to build a carbon capture and storage system so that the CO2 created from the waste burned does not exacerbate climate change. (They also do a really good job of removing the pollutants from burning the waste and using the ash leftover for road building and other construction projects.) I’m not completely sold on waste to energy because it seems like we should be producing less waste and burning waste does produce some pretty bad toxins which have to be carefully disposed of. Also, twaste to energy plants are often located in low income areas and the pollution is more likely to harm those who are the most vulnerable. However, what Norway has done does seem to be pretty thoughtful and profitable and somehow seems better than making mountains out of our waste like we do in the states.

Overall, it’s pretty nice living in a city where being good to the environment is so easy though I have to say- after reading “No Impact Man” last year and hearing how hard you have to work to remove waste from your life, Norway and the US still have a long way to go in terms of waste production. I mean is that plastic wrapping my cucumber really necessary?

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A visit from a friend and two Norwegian explorers

This past weekend, Mary Lewis, an old friend from college became our first visitor to Norway to stay with us at our apartment. We had a wonderful time together exploring Oslo, going to festivals, and during our last day together, learning about a Norwegian Explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Here is a pic of Mary Lewis and I exploring Oslo (using Rick Steve’s walking tour which was actually pretty great):

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On Sunday night, we watched the newest movie about Thor Heyerdahl’s adventure on the “Kon-Tiki” in 1947 and then Monday while the kids were in school, we went to the Kon Tiki museum in Oslo where we saw the boat he helped build. (The movie was pretty good and is streaming on Netflix for free but unfortunately only in Norwegian. So, we rented the english version from  iTunes.) 

In middle school, Thor told his teachers he wanted to uncovery scientific mysteries like that of Easter Island. After graduating college, he pursued his dream and spent a year with his wife on a Polynesian island where he developed a theory that some native Polynesians came from Peru to the West of Polynesia, 4,300 miles away. Scientists at the time believed all of Polynesia was settled from the East. In particular he heard of the legend of “Kon-Tiki” who came to the island on a balsa wood raft from Peru. After he was unsuccessful convincing others that his theory was plausible, he decided to test it out himself with a six man crew by building a balsa wood raft and then successfully sailing it on a 101 day, 4,300 mile journey journey across the Pacific. The Kon-Tiki museum has the original balsa wood raft and the supplies they used on it. Below is a pic of the ship- Doesn’t it look flimsy?:

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A few crazy factoids about their journey:

  1. Because of a near drowning incident in childhood, Thor evidently was scared of water and didn’t even know how to swim before he decided to sail across the Atlantic. In fact only one person in their six man crew had any experience in the ocean!
  2. At the time, scientists thought that it was only possible to catch fish near the shore and that in the middle of the ocean, fish were so scarce that they thought no one could have sailed far without proper provisions. On Thor’s journey, breakfast almost every day consisted of flying fish that became stranded on the raft the night before. So, he helped prove that theory incorrect. 
  3. They brought a parrot with them that bit through the radio line that allowed them to have contact with the outside world
  4. They were unable to steer the raft well and when they got close to the Polynesian islands, natives would paddle to them but they couldn’t steer the boat to their islands. They ended up basically crashing their raft on a reef (where the wind and current brought their ship) just outside some polynesian islands.
  5. Almost everyone was convinced the ropes holding the raft together would fall apart after 14 days and that the entire crew would die. Thor didn’t believe them and didn’t even bring enough extra rope to tie them together again if they did break. Fortunately the ropes dug into the balsa soft balsa wood which protected the ropes (and their lives) for the entire 101 day journey.
  6. Thor wrote a best selling book and based on footage he took on their journey an Oscar winning documentary in 1950 after his journey which you can also see in the Kon-Tiki museum or rent on iTunes.

After watching the movie and seeing the museum, I was stunned by how unprepared and how daring Thor was when undertaking the Kon-Tiki expedition and how incredible it was that they all survived that 101 day journey across the ocean. It was also humbling to know how little scientists knew in 1948 and how little we still know today.

A little under two weeks ago, I read a book about Roald Amundsen, another Norwegian explorer, and his adventures exploring the Arctic. I also got the chance to tour his home with the International Woman’s Club of Oslo. Below is a pic of a few of us by his statue by his house:

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Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole and also the first person to reach both the south and north pole. He died at the age of 55 trying to rescue a fellow arctic explorer by airplane and his house is almost exactly the same as he left it in 1928. A few interesting facts about Roald:

  1. When he was young, he was inspired by another famous Norwegian polar explorer Fritdjof Nansen and would open his window in the middle of the night in Norway so he could get accustomed to arctic conditions. His poor parents!
  2. As a young man, he tried to explore northern norway in the dead of winter with his brother outside for a week with just sleeping bags (no tent) and a small amount of food. Within the first few days they almost died after they tried to make their own shelter in the snow and were frozen in overnight. After that experience he decided he would never be unprepared for anything.
  3. His mother wanted him to be a doctor but she died in the middle of his training. After she passed away, he quite medical school to pursue his dream of exploring the arctic.
  4. On the first expedition he lead, his creditors threatened to cancel their journey until they got their money back. Thor decided to leave in the middle of the night to escape them and he evidently got away with it.
  5. The doctors on his expeditions all ended up sneaking the morphine from the medicine cabinet and becoming addicted for the rest of their lives. On his last expedition, Roald decided to just bring the cabinet and no doctor so he wouldn’t have to deal with that unfortunate side effect. Below is a pic of the medicine cabinet he brought with him on his most recent Arctic expedition. It’s smell was very strong when our guide opened it up for us.IMG_2343
  6. They would set out on journey’s expecting with provisions to feed themselves for 3- 5 years because they expected to be trapped in the ice with little chance of finding other food for entire winters. I think they brought biscuits, and chocolate, and 
  7. He learned from natives to the Arctic how to avoid scurvey by eating raw meat (from seals) which had just enough vitamin C in it. (He actually learned a lot from native people and had these beautiful pictures in the windows in his home that were taken on his expeditions.)IMG_2324
  8. Lots of explorers died in horrific ways trying to get to the North and South Pole. Conditions there are unbelievably harsh!
  9. NASA studied Roald Amundsen and his expeditions to learn what space explorers would have to undertake when going to the moon.
  10. At one point he decided to train a baby polar bear but it didn’t work out so the polar bear ended up stuffed in his home. There is the head of another polar bear on a cabinet by his picture.

And here are a few bonus pics- Walking through his house really felt like walking back in time. It was amazing. From left to right and top to bottom- an outdoor porch area, his living room with the original furniture/lamps, the study where he planned his expeditions (and a huge map of the arctic), the outside of his home, the bathroom, and the amazing detailed painting so the wire matched the wall paper, and finally his bedroom (Norwegians still tend to have bedrooms just big enough for their beds) with port holes so he could feel like he was on a ship.

After we toured his home, we went to a cute coffee house and a friend ordered Norwegian waffles which Norwegian’s eat either with jam or brown cheese. (Waffles and hot dogs are evidently very Norwegian.)

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Both of these trips have taught me again, how little I know about our world. I seriously had never heard of these two explorers yet in their time, they were world famous! It also made me realize that although I’ve always considered myself adventurous (I biked across the US in college!), I am much to risk adverse to do anything close to what Roald Amundsen and Thor accomplished! Those guys are crazy!

 

Only in Norway, part 2

Here are a couple more Only in Norway sightings:

This one isn’t really a mystery—I just thought it was pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t want a climate-controlled dog kennel just outside the food hall so you can leave your dog in comfort while you go in to purchase some fisksuppe.

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This one is a complete mystery to me. I’ve seen a number of these things at my daughters’ school, and on the campus of UiO. At first I thought they were some sort of pavement warmer, but there aren’t nearly enough of them around.

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If you’ve got any idea what this is, please share your thoughts in the comments.

A tribute to the the public transportation system of my dreams

When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was my Brio train set. I could play with those trains for hours, and always dreamed of having the the giant set—the subway, and the ferry, and the tram and the train.

Now that I’ve moved to Oslo, I think I’ve found the Brio set of my dreams here in the Ruter transportation network for metropolitan Oslo and beyond. Since Brio is based in Sweden, I honestly think maybe they’ve just been taking some ideas for the next elements of their train sets from their Norwegian Neighbors.

Let me try to explain just how amazing the Oslo Transportation system is.

First, the Ruter network consists of the T-bane, a subway network of 100 stations with 5 lines covering more than 80 km. It also includes a similarly large network of tram lines in central Oslo and the suburbs, a network of Ferries that reach out islands in the Oslo Fjord, a massive bus network, and the regional train network, NSB.

The entire network is divided into zones, and your price varies depending on which zones you are traveling in. This map is massive—we live about 10 km outside Oslo and are still well within zone 1, which includes all of the subway and tram networks. The airport is about an hour away from central Oslo and near the beginning of zone 4N.

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There are no turnstiles in this subway network, and the only people that use paper tickets are tourists. Once you get a Norwegian ID, you can buy all your tickets electronically on an app on your phone. For about $900, you can buy a year pass, that gives you unlimited rides within zone 1. If you want to ride outside of zone 1, you can buy an extension ticket for a few bucks, again on your phone. Kids under 4 are free, and all children are free on the weekends. The entire system works wonderfully on the honor system. You simply walk onto the train. The only time you ever need to show your ticket is when you get on the bus, and the honor system is enforced by occasional “ticket inspections” and if you are caught without a ticket, you have to pay a $120 fine. This system works beautifully.

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All of the forms of transportation adhere to precise schedules available in the app and on Google maps, and making the most complicated train-tram—bus connections quite simple. If there is ever a delay that causes you to be more than 20 minutes late, Ruter even promises to cover your taxi fare.

Truly, it’s wonderful, and it’s made me realize I don’t miss having a car at all, which is a good thing, since getting a drivers license in Norway is an ordeal I think I’m going to avoid putting myself and my wallet through.

It’s wonderful to know that even though we don’t have a car, virtually all of Oslo and its surroundings are open to us. That, and the wonders of subway cars designed by Porsche, would be enough to make public transportation one of the best things about Norway, but then the thing that really put it over top was this recent ad campaign by Ruter:

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These advertisements feature portraits of immigrants new to Oslo from all over the world, and almost put a knot in my throat—maybe because I’m realizing how easy it would be to feel excluded in a foreign country when you don’t know the language, and how grateful I am every day that I rarely have that feeling here. Or maybe it’s because every day my home country seems to be finding another way to make live even more difficult for immigrants. Either way, I’m grateful for the transportation network that does more than just gets you from point A to B with a awesome app, it makes everyone feel welcome in the process.