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.

Hiking to Kolsås

This past Monday, Diana and I went on another date where hiked to the wetop of Kolsåstoppen, a beautiful mountain about 15 minutes away from our house by bus, which gave us beautiful views of all of Bærum (our commune/county), and Oslo.

Here are some photos from our trip:

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We thought it was neat that this hike (or at least the sign) is sponsored by Kvikk Lunch, the Norwegian Kit Kat.
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This was also our first chance to test our the hiking poles I got for a Christmas present—they make such a difference, but I also felt deeply inadequate as 70 year old Norwegians in tennis shoes just seemed to dance by us in the steeper sections of the hike.
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Our apartment is generally in this direction. You can see the Oslofjord in the background, too.
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Here’s a beautiful mountain lake we came to on the hike. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but the water was crystal clear.
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Another view of the lake, with Nodre Kolsas in the background.
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Closer to the top of of Søndre Kolsas.
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Our view for lunch.
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A Hytta along on the trip back. This one serves waffles on Sundays. Too bad we were climbing on a Monday.
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A really cool mushroom we saw along the trail.
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There were a number of electric fence crossings near the end of the trail, but at each point, with these little step ladders to help facilitate the crossing.

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And today, our DNT cabin key arrived. I’m still pretty amazed that if you pay about 100 kroner, the DNT will send you a key that will open any of the hundreds of cabins all across Norway, and trust you to just leave money for any food you eat (in the cabins that are stocked with food) or to pay when you spend the night.

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tilfeldig utvalg for August

Here’s a tilefelding utvaly (random assortment) of photos from August that I didn’t get to blog about in detail.

Another awesome playground we found at Ekbergparken
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This park was recently made famous in the NYT, when the 52 Places Traveler (Keep Oslo Weird) went to the same sculpture park and mentioned this sculpture, Fideicommissium, of a woman squatting and peeing off in the woods.
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We saw the Viking shop museum. Ada was not impressed.
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A pretty decent photo of all of us and the Gilheanys on the roof deck of our apartment, minus Ada hiding off camera.
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Some of the seats in the buses have 4 point harnesses for little kids and the bottom of the seat folds down so that a little kid can sit there. Ada loved it, and wants every seat on the bus to be like this.

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Hanging out at the Royal Palace. I found the tour to be super interesting. The modern Norwegian Monarchy is only about 100 years old, and the people voted to create a constitutional monarchy. It is the official residence of the king and queen, and he meets with the leaders of the government every Friday in an amazing conference room. IMG 0972

A pretty cool culture festival we went to at the harbor.
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A couple of extra outtakes from Maddie’s first day of school:
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Maddie’s classroom. That’s her teacher, Ms. Willums on the far left.
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Ada at her school playground.

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The fountain just outside our apartment that the girls stop to play in on the way to and from school.
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Ada all dressed up in her rain suit.
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Looking back, all of these photos seem like they were taken so long ago. Time is flying by, and I need to learn more Norwegian.

Norway-it really is powered by nature

The Visit Norway slogan is “Powered by Nature”, and it’s both literally true (98% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydropower), and figuratively true, and as we discovered past Sunday, when we participated in Friluftslivets Uke (Outdoor week) by going to a festival at Sognsvann, a beautiful lake just a few km outside Oslo at the end of one of the T-bane lines. The purpose of this week is to get Norwegians out enjoying the outdoors, as mentioned on their website (and poorly translated by Google):

Put the tent in the garden, pull the duvet out on the balcony, hit the camp in a forest hole, by a water or overnight on a mountain top.

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Outdoor week kicks off with this festival at a beautiful lake where 30 various outdoor organizations set up booths and events. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with temperatures in the mid 60’s. Here are a few of the things we did:

Building sandcastles
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Roasting pølse over an open fire. Norwegians have these amazing telescoping roasting sticks that are the pinnacle of campfire technology. It’s also traditional to eat your pulse on a lompen, a potato tortilla that you wrap around the hot dog.

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Roasting dough on a stick
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Canoeing around the lake. Maddie wasn’t a fan.
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Ada loved it.
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Checking out some pretty amazing Norwegian rides:

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The entire festival was filled with free, fun adventures for kids and adults. There was even a super cute cross country ski course for toddlers that I somehow forgot to photograph.

We did decide to join the DNT (the Norwegian Trekking Association) and in a week or so, we will get a key in the mail that will unlock the hundreds of trekking cabins (hyetta) all across Norway. The cabins operate on the honor system—you’re welcome to go into any cabin to rest or warm up, but are asked to pay if you make a fire or stay overnight, and you are expected to leave the cabin even better than you found it before.

Everyone says that Norway is expensive (this is definitely true), but they also say that the best things, the gorgeous hikes and outdoor adventures. are free, and now I see that the country teaches this lesson to even the youngest children.

My first day of work

Today was my first day of work at the University of Oslo. After dropping the girls off at school with Diana, I caught the 3 T-bane into Oslo, and then took the 5 train one stop to the university. It looks like it will take me about half an hour to get to work.

Here are some photos of where I work. First the physics building. IMG 1580

Inside there’s a Foucault Pendulum

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And this interesting mural on three walls:
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Here are some bulleted highlights from the day, and projects and opportunities I might be working on.

  • A new Year 8-13 School has recently opened in nearby Sandvika, and its focus is on math and science. Students in the school are getting additional hours of maths instruction beyond the typical curriculum and some part of this will be in computational work.
  • The entire 1-13 Norwegian Curriculum is being revised this year. One of the major reforms for the maths curriculum is that there will be a focus on including computing in all grades. This is going to probably require the training of a lot of teachers, and the plan is to start teaching the new curriculum in 2020.
  • The physics department is making a major push to train its TAs to be able to better facilitate active learning, and I talked to a postdoc today who is leading that effort.
  • Norwegian students study general science in years 1-11, and then can elect to study physics intensively along with a few other subjects in year 12 and 13.
  • A professor and postdoc are working on incorporating computational essays in an introductory E&M course.
  • A teacher in the Master’s program is working on incorporating computational modeling in his high school class.
  • A grad student I used to work with back in Atlanta is now using machine learning to study massive datasets from the registrar of multiple universities to see if he can develop a model help predict which students will major in physics, and which students are at risk for dropping the major.
  • There’s a class on Data Analysis and Machine Learning in Physics that I’m going to audit this fall. Thankfully, it’s taught in English.
  • I sat in on an introductory E&M course taught in Norwegian. Though Coulomb’s law looks the same everywhere, I’ve still got a lot of work to do before I’m going to be able to be super useful in the typical Norwegian classroom.

Everyone seems friendly and welcoming, and I’m excited to see where all of this will lead in the months ahead—I’ve gotten a great feeling that I both have a lot to contribute, and a lot to learn.

Also, the OiU cafeteria is amazingly affordable and delicious. In a city where a simple ham and cheese baguette will easily set you back $14, I got a delicious plate of fish, salad, and rice for $6. At least something in Oslo is cheap.

Here are a few other photos from around campus:

The gorgeous library (this picture doesn’t do it justice).

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Some pretty fountains near the center of campus.
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And, I was able to get home just as Maddie was trying to get in the front door of our apartment building. All in all, it was a great day.

First Family Hike in Norway: Sæteren Gård

After checking out Stæteren Gård on on Friday, we were excited to share take Maddie and Ada on the same hike. But we were also nervous; though they’ve gotten much better at walking long distances in the past month, hiking isn’t something that I would say is a top five thing they wanted to do on a weekend.

We told them about the giant chest of toys that awaited them at the cabin and the end of the hike, and asked them what it would take to get them up the hill. Their consensus—candy, specifically, lollipops and chocolate.

Ada decided that candy gave her energy, and it made for a pretty entertaining hike. Here she is taking off after a couple of licks of her lolly pop.

Later in the day, Ada discovered that a pretty red rock gave her energy too. So, she put a rock in her mouth and ran up the hill to our cabin.

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But in the end, Ada’s energy ran out, and as was to be expected, we ended up with a toddler on our shoulders.

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Still, the whole hike took just over an hour, and we arrived at Sæteren Gård in plenty of time to get some ice cream sandwiches before the cafe closed, and then took to exploring the cabin.

Here were are opening the giant toy chest:

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And checking out the sleeping loft.
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Right outside the cabin was a wonderful low ropes course, which Ada and Maddie enjoyed tremendously (Ada more than Maddie).

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Soon it was time to start dinner, and so we lit some candles

The name of our cabin is Envetyrhytta, which translates to Adventure Lodge.

The toy box had all the major fairy tales covered. Here are the Billy Goats Gruff, with hand carved goats, and an adorable troll with button eyes.

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Red riding hood and the big bad wolf are deep in conversation.

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If you’re interested, here’s an outtake from the Red Riding Hood puppet show Ada and Maddie put on.

The Princess and the Pea. The pea was a rock Ada found outside the cabin.

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Again, I’m amazed by how much Norway seems to understand the needs of children and accommodates their needs. I’m sure there are nice huts to be found in New Zealand, and even along the Appalacian Trail, but I don’t think any of them would be stocked with half a dozen fairy tales’ worth of dolls and puppets.

Though our cabin didn’t have running water or electricity, it had a ton of charm, one cute troll, and six bird houses on the front, including one very large owl house. Here are a few more photos.

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Maddie swears this owl coat hook was in her classroom in last year.

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This whimsical mural was on the wall.
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Maddie’s entry in the guest book

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The next day, Ada went back to play a bit more on the ropes course.

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And then it was time to make our way back home.

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Here’s to camping out at many more hyttes this year, and seeing what they are like in the winter.