LEED and Budapest

In the fall, as I mentioned in this post, I began spending a day every week taking a course to understand the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s (LEED) certification for the Operation and Maintenance of Buildings so I could take the test to become a LEED AP O&M Certified professional. My hope was to learn more about sustainable operations so I could do a better job as St. Andrew’s Director of Sustainability. 

In the course of studying for the test, I realized that my certification as LEED Green Associate which I obtained while working at Southface (and is a requirement to take be LEED AP certified) was out of date. Because you can take the LEED Green Associate Test and LEED AP test at the same time, I found I had to spend time studying for both.

Because LEED is primarily used in the United States (though there are lots of LEED-certified buildings in Europe including the US embassy in Norway) the closest/least expensive place for me to take the test to become LEED certified was in Budapest, Hungary. So in late May, we left for Budapest as a family during one of the last long weekends the girls had in school.

We arrived in Budapest on a Tuesday at lunch time and my test (4 hours of 200 multiple choice questions) was on Wednesday morning. So, we had time in the afternoon to see a model train exhibit which was really well done called the “Miniversum.” John and I particularly liked learning about life in Budapest under communism at the museum.

The next day, I headed to the main university in Budapest, a 20-minute walk from our Airbnb to take my test. Several weeks before the test, I found myself going through study materials and taking practice tests again and again sometimes during and most of the time in between time spent with our many visitors in May. I was certainly nervous that after spending all this time studying and all the money to travel to Budapest and take the test that I wouldn’t pass! Fortunately, my hard work paid off and I passed. Below is my passing score right next to my very large stack of study materials!

While I was taking the test, John took the girls to a science museum in Budapest (the seventh we’ve seen this year)

and we celebrated by going to a sushi restaurant for lunch (Maddie and Ada’s choice), exploring a bit of Buda,

and then eating at a vegetarian restaurant for dinner (my choice). Below Ada is chowing down on some vegan “goulash” soup (a traditional soup in Budapest normally made out of beef.)

The next day was rainy so we decided to check out the Turkish baths. It was a perfect way to spend a rainy day after my big test.

My favorite day by far was our last day when we explored the children’s railway in the Buda hills (named because children help operate it),

then walking through the hills and stopping at a playground along the way,

climbing a tower to see a view of the city,

and then taking the ski lift back down to the bottom.

We had a wonderful trip. The selfie Ada took while in Budapest says it all:

Celebrating May 17: Norway’s National Day, the greatest holiday of them all

Norway takes its holidays seriously. Even though Norway feels quite secular—2% of Norwegians regularly attend church, and more than half say they do not believe in God. Still, Christmas and Easter are huge deals here—shops close for multiple days, and everyone goes all out to celebrate. We’ve discovered a handful of other holidays associated with Lutheran church—Ascension Day, and Whit Monday that get the full Norwegian Holiday treatment—everything closes, and Norwegians observe the day by going out into nature. But by far, the biggest holiday of them all is Norwegian Constitution Day, the 17th of May (17 Mai in Norwegian). The government begins preparing for this day in early April. As the snow has mostly melted from sidewalks and roadways, they begin a mammoth clean up operation to pick up all of the gravel that is spread over roads and walkways for traction. This is followed by a massive country wide beautification effort tending to gardens along roads and the like. The 17th of May recognizes the day when the Norwegian Constitution was signed in in 1814 after Denmark gave up control of the country, declaring Norway to be an independent kingdom, only to be taken over by Sweden a few months later. A few years later in 1821, a member of the Parliament designed the current Norwegian flags to reflect the country’s close ties to both Sweden (the blue stripe) and Denmark (the red field). As an aside, I’ve found learning about Norwegian and Scandinavian history to truly fascinating. For much of its history, Norway has been a rather poor country fought over and ruled by its neighbors, Denmark and Sweden, and despite this, was able to negotiate a peaceful dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905 and a subsequent national vote to invite Denmark’s Prince Carl to serve as king, who changed his name to Haakon VII, a common name for kings in Norway in the medieval ages. Back to celebrating the 17th of May. As the day approaches, it becomes the talk of the office. It’s clear that Norwegians genuinely want everyone to enjoy their National day, and so we got a lot of advice for what to do. The centerpiece of the Norwegian National Day are parades of school children. Every barnehage (pre-school) in Norway holds a small parade where children dress in traditional dress, the Bunad (more about that later), and walk around their school grounds. Older children participate in parades in every town in Norway, with the largest parade taking place in Oslo. Norwegians are very proud that their parades on constitution day feature children, and not the military, and this will inevitably be the topic of conversation at some point during the day with a stranger. Maddie and Ada’s school had an outdoor assembly on the day before to celebrate 17th of May. Here’s a photo of all the children with Norwegian flags. IMG 5957 Ada’s teacher happened to have a bunad in Ada’s size, which she wore when her class celebrated May 17th the day before as you can see in the video below:
Not wanting Maddie to feel left out, Diana and I searched on Finn.no (the craigslist of Norway) to find a used Bunad in her size, and I was able to pick it up from a wonderful Norwegian couple at 11pm at night, who took extra time to iron the dress and gave me more tips on what to do the next day. When we woke up on the 17th of May, Ada and Maddie got dressed in their bunad and Diana and I got dressed in our regular causal clothes. We boarded a bus bound for central Oslo (notice that all the buses are decorated with tiny Norwegian flags). IMG 5969 The bus was nearly packed, and aside from Diana and I, everyone was either in bunad, or a suit with tie. This remains the only time I’ve ever seen Norwegians wear a tie—not even on a few formal occasions when I’ve been at UiO is it customary to wear ties. We walked to the Royal Palace grounds so we could see the children’s parade pass by Palace while the royal family dutifully waved to the children. Almost everyone watching the parade was also wearing bunad which was pretty amazing. Below is a pic of Maddie and Ada in downtown Oslo:
Here are a few photos from the parade itself: IMG 5990 IMG 6001 IMG 6017 IMG 6040 IMG 6050 After celebrating May 17th in downtown Oslo, we headed to a friend’s house with other families from OIS, then we joined the children’s parade in Bekkestua which is called “blomstertog” because the children give out flowers (blomster) to the people watching the parade (tog). You can see all of us in the parade around the 29 second mark below:
The other big traditions for the 17th of May are eating hot dogs (polse), waffles and ice cream, which I’m happy to say we did in abundance. Truly, this is one of the most joyful national holidays I’ve ever experienced.


On May 5th, our first weekend back from Italy, we decided to take a short trip to the newest Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) hut in Oslo. The cabin, called “Fuglemyrhytta” or bird marsh cabin is about a 1.8-mile hike from the nearest train station right in the city (and only a 40-minute train ride from our house).

The cabin was at the top of a mountain in Oslo and Ada led the way during the entire hike in which was good because John and I were carrying sleeping bags, food and clothes in backpacks we borrowed from BUA, this amazing equipment non profit in Norway that loans sporting and outdoor equipment to anyone for a week at a time.

Below are a few photos of Ada on our hike. As you can see, we encountered snow on the ground on our way up!

Here is a picture of John in front of BUA with a purple backpack we borrowed. (We also found out we could donate equipment to BUA which is what we did with the sporting equipment we bought that we couldn’t sell.)

Once we got to the top, we ate a picnic lunch in a lean-to next to the cabin with a gorgeous view of the Oslo fjord.

We then decided to hike an extra half mile to Vetakollen, a mountain peak with a great view of the Oslo fjord.

Maddie found a stick with a hole where the knot was:

We returned to cook dinner in the splendidly equipped kitchen and chat with the other people staying at the cabin (a Norwegian mother and daughter.) We didn’t get any photos of the inside of the cabin, but if you’re curious, follow this link—you can see all of Oslo from the gorgeous picture window. Here is a picture of the outside:

That night the pleasant spring weather we had experienced earlier that day (a high of 50F) became much colder. When we woke up the next morning it was 30F and snowing! Weather changes on a dime in Norway especially in the spring and this was no exception. When we decided to hike down the rest of the mountain, Ada asked me multiple times why I had made them hike up the “cold” mountain as she fought over the favored pair of gloves with her sister. Ada ended up getting the gloves as you can see here:

As we headed downhill though she jumped from rock to rock claiming she was doing kung fu. Maddie, who was in the midst of reading Harry Potter with her dad, started dreaming of butterbeer, wondering if it would warm her up and asking if we could make it once we got home. Fortunately for her, two of the ingredients (cream soda and butterscotch syrup) which cannot be found in Norway were to be brought by her grandmother in a weeks time.

Italy Part 4- Pisa, Cinque Terre and Venice

Going to the beach in Italy was the part of our vacation plan Maddie and Ada were most looking forward to. After visiting Florence and Rome, John and I were on the same page. We were very excited to slow down our sightseeing and spend some time on the beach. On the way from Florence to Monterosso though (one of the five towns in Cinque Terre), our train happened to go through the Pisa. So, we were able to take a small side trip to see the leaning tower.

Later that day, we arrived in Cinque Terre, and the beach was exactly what we needed. We were lucky because the weather on our first and second day at Monterosso was perfect beach weather. Because the water was still quite cold, John and I chose not to get in the ocean, but Maddie and Ada, accustomed to the freezing temps in Norway, had a blast playing in the water,

They also loved getting gelato nearby.

When the weather turned rainy the next day, we wandered around old Monterroso which was just beautiful.

and we went to a local vineyard for a wine tasting:

After Cinque Terre, we headed for our last town in Italy- Venice! Venice was of course, just beautiful.

We loved visiting the Doge’s Palace which houses one of the largest oil paintings in the world (the one on the wall, directly behind us).

and watching the gondolas (though we all chose not to ride on ourselves).

Venice did feel like one of the most touristed cities we visited. I was saddened when I found out that Venice has only 50,000 residents and in the busy tourist season experience 150,000 tourists a day. On our last day in Venice, after traveling for more than 2 weeks, our longest vacation as a family, we were all ready to return “home” to Norway. Below Maddie and Ada watch Venice recede into the distance as we head in a water taxi to the airport.

And here’s Ada, in her Venetian Mask, sleeping on the bus ride home, exhausted after a wonderful trip. IMG 5458

Our Last Visitors

In May, John and I were happy to host lots of family and friends at our apartment in Norway. Soon after we returned from Italy, John’s mother came for a week. We all loved having her visit with us and were so appreciative she made the journey, especially since it was her first time out of the US!

The girls enjoyed showing her their school, and having her tag along to ballet class, piano, and swim lessons. She even came just in time to see Ada’s ballet recital! Ada, who hates getting her picture taken and being at the center of attention, at first refused to dance in the recital but then changed her mind and said she would dance a little which is what she did! (Ada is in the middle and hardly dancing at the beginning:)

And below is a picture of Ada with her friends looking at the tulip her friend gave her after the performance:

John also enjoyed taking his mother to explore Oslo while Maddie and Ada were at school. She especially enjoyed seeing the folk museum and taking a tour of the Oslo Fjord.

A few days after John’s mother left, a friend of mine from college, Ana, came to visit and we enjoyed exploring Oslo together and catching up. We visited the Munch museum, Vigeland and Eckerberg sculpture parks, and went island hopping together.  Below are selfies of us island hopping using public transit in the Oslo Fjord:

and a few pictures from Eckerberg Park (the center photo is of “Fideicommissum”, self-portrait of the artist Ann-Sofi Siden, squatting and peeing in the woods, which was mentioned in the NYT):

We also had to deal with an unfortunate event. A week before Ana had arrived, we were notified by Ada’s preschool that one of her classmates had pinworms which is evidently quite common in Norway. Sure enough a few days into Ana’s visit, we realized Ada had them as well. Ana, who grew up in Ecuador amongst lots of parasitic worms, helped me decontaminate the house which wasn’t easy with a small European washer and no dryer. We all took our pinworm medication which is sold over the counter and was recommended by the school nurse. Thank goodness for good friends!

A day after Ana left, we had our final guests of the year, our family from Denmark came which was great fun for us and the girls. We all went to Vigeland Park, then to a medieval festival in Oslo where Ada and I fought with swords and where we saw men and women fight with swords in full armor!

The next day the girls had to go to a birthday party, so the rest of us went on a hike up Kolsas which was just beautiful. Below are a few pics of us from the weekend

Although we didn’t host them, we were also so happy to have the chance to visit with my friend Molly’s parents over dinner in mid-June before they headed out on a tour of Norway and Finland.

Italy–Part 3 Florence and Siena

After five days in Rome, we took another wonderful Italian train up to Florence, and proceeded to trek from the train station to our AirBnB in the old part of town dragging a backpack and two wheeled suitcases along very narrow sidewalks, as Ada found great entertainment in trying to jump aboard the suitcases and riding them.

Once we dropped our things in our AirBnB, which was a wonderful top floor apartment in an old building with exposed beams, we made our way down to the oldest part of Florence and the Galileo Museum.

Here’s Ada playing with a brachistrochone track in a small kids area in the museum.

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The upper floors of the museum were a wonderful collection of all sorts of historic scientific instruments, and made for one of those moments when I wish I had more time to explore the museum without Ada and Maddie telling me how boring everything was and wondering when we would leave. But we did see Galileo’s finger on display, just as I remember hearing about in some old science video I’ve showed my classes.

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On the next day, we explored the Uffizi gallery, which is one of the most impressive art museums I’ve ever visited. The building itself is most stunning—originally commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici to house the governmental offices of Florence, it’s a clear statement to the power and wealth of the Medici family. These days, as every tour book/video warns, it is packed with tourists, so we got out timed tickets in advanced and did our best to keep Maddie and Ada engaged with the amazing art they were seeing. Here’s Maddie posing in probably the most famous painting in the museum.

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The southern side of Florence, across the Arno, is stunning. Here’s a view overlooking the city.

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We walked downhill from that stunning view into the center of Florence, stopping for a picnic in a rose garden.


And walking across the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which was both stunning and very crowded.
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On the way back to our AirBnB, we learned that the inspiration for Pinocchio came from a small wooden toy store called Bartolucci, which made for a great stop in the old city.

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Here is a photo of the historic workshop.

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By far, the highlight of our time in Florence was a workshop in pizza and gelato making. Here’s Maddie forming her pizza dough, which is far simpler to make than I had imagined.

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Once the pizzas were being prepared in the oven, we took a break to make gelato, which Ada loved.

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Here’s Ada with her Pizza creation, which is “super yum.”

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Finally,  on the advice of a work colleague, we took a day trip to Siena, which was a great idea. After taking about a dozen escalators from the train station to the outskirts of the historic town, you walk into the center of Siena, which is totally car free.


The city itself is beautiful, and the girls loved running around the Piazza del Campo in the middle of the town.

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Later in the day, we enjoyed touring the Duomo, and learning more about the various wars between Siena and Florence. Here’s a pic of Duomo from the outside:

And the ceiling inside:

Italy Part 2- Pompeii

During our time in Rome, we decided to take one day to visit Pompeii. I wasn’t quite sure if the two hour trip to Pompeii from Rome would be worth it but because two friends of mine said it was their favorite part of Italy and because Maddie had just studied Pompeii in school, we decided to take the time to visit, and I am so glad we did. On the day we left for Pompeii, we ended up arriving at the train station about half an hour before the train we had reserved and were lucky to be able to change our ticket to an earlier train for free in what turned out to be a first-class cabin! This meant our first train ride in Italy on the fast train from Rome to Naples was luxurious with free snacks, drinks, and nice seats in a quiet cabin.

Once we got to Pompeii, we met up with our tour guide who was incredibly knowledgeable, but unfortunately, wasn’t great with children which meant John and I had to find ways to entice and engage Maddie to follow along on the tour (or just let them play in the streets of Pompeii).

We also had to remind both girls multiple times that Mount Vesuvius wasn’t going to erupt during our visit. Below is a picture of me pointing out Mount Vesuvius to Ada and another one of our family in the forum at Pompeii in front of the Mountain.

After talking about Mount Vesuvius, of the first stops on our tour was the area where the pottery from Pompeei was stored. When archeologists dug up Pompeii, there were areas in the layers of volcanic debris that was completely hollow. They soon realized that they were hollow because that is where Romans or animals who hadn’t been able to escape had been buried. They were able to recreate their final resting poses by filling in the empty spaces with plaster. These were the most touching parts of our tour:

Aside from seeing these plaster casts, my favorite part of Pompeii was learning about how Roman’s lived in AD 79 when Pompeii erupted. I loved seeing the intricate tilework on the floor of a wealthy Roman home and the decorations preserved on the walls of this Roman laundry business:

I also loved this motif which was in front of a Roman temple:

It was also neat to find out how public fountains were created. Below Maddie and Ada were able to put their hands on the portion of the stone fountain worn down by Roman hands almost two thousands years ago.

I also was reminded how deeply patriarchal Romans were. Roman women had no power. They could not vote and were deemed property of their husbands or fathers. In this theatre (and most in Rome), women were required to stand in the upper sections while men were able to sit in the seats. No wonder we still have so many problems today with gender equity when this society had so much influence on the western world!

Overall, it was a great day trip from Rome and one of the more educational days of our year abroad.