2 weeks, 3 countries, 4 languages.

For two weeks since my last blog post, we have traveled to the Czech Republic and Poland and participated in an English Language Camp along with our home church in Grand Forks and our partner church in Olomouc, CR. We also spent three nights in Kraków, Poland following our time in Czech. And while we were in Kraków, we spent the better part of a whole day traveling to and from and touring the Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi concentration camps. I am not going to try to squeeze all of these experiences into one blog post, but I will talk about these separately. Today’s will focus on the Czech part of our two-week journey.

Paul and I did not initially plan on taking part in this year’s English Camp in Czech. We had lead the team last year, and there has usually been a span of three years lately between our trips there. But, several stars aligned, if you will, and we decided to go this year. We joined up with the rest of our team of eight in Olomouc, CR one day following their arrival. My use of the Czech language was decidedly more rusty than in past years–mostly due to my ‘little grey cells’ being stretched as of late with having to speak and understand Norwegian! It was quite funny, really, to be trying to speak Czech with someone, and random Norwegian would come out of my mouth. Oh, well. It did disappear after the 11 days we were there.

It has always been great to reconnect with our dear friends from the Olomouc Baptist Church, some of whom we have known for 20 years. In that time span children have become adults, adults have gotten married and started families, and the church has grown and is now in the process of renovating their very own church building!

This year’s camp was again at Hotel Neptun near the mountain village of Mala Moravka about an hour and a half bus ride from Olomouc. There were a total of 79 campers, and when I say ‘campers’, that includes children, teens, adults, seniors, the American Team, the Czech Team.  We each taught or co-taught a level of English to a specific group along with a reading comprehension aspect using the Bible as text. Also, we facilitated a daily conversation group of between 6-8 people. There was a little afternoon free time, very little, as we lead optional workshops on various subjects that each camper could sign up to attend. Derek and I held an ‘International Food Demo’ one afternoon where we prepared three international party foods: Kremkaker (Norway), Tzatziki (Turkey), and 7-Layer Tex-Mex Dip (USA). I channeled my inner Julia Child that day when several things went a bit “off script” and we all just laughed and went with the flow. Everyone was able to taste a bit of our dishes.  Other workshops included “The Man Cave”-Paul’s discussion group for men only, “English Pronunciation” by Rebekah, our resident Speech Therapist, and “Let’s Dance”, a video-led dance-a-thon which took the place of Alyssa’s “Ultimate Frisbee” due to unexpected rain.

Evening activites included worship songs, testimonies, group games, a bonfire with s’mores and the delightful Czech sausage ‘Specacky’, a Talent Show, and the Graduation Night group skits. To show our support for Talent Night, Paul and I, along with the ever-enthusiastic eemcees for the show, Alyssa and Rebekah, lip-synced to ABBA’s ‘Take a Chance on Me”. Wow. What Paul won’t do for his stage-struck wife.

Our days are long, getting up at 6:30 am and usually getting to bed around midnight, and the week seems to fly by after the first day or so. After checking out on Friday, there were two optional trips planned for those who were interested: several hours in the spa town of Karlova Studanka or a hike in the woods to a waterfall. Due to my knee not being at its best, I chose the spa visit. There were ten of us walking through the picturesque town, seeing a small waterfall of our own, stopping for the requisite coffee and cake break, and having lunch before we caught the bus back to Olomouc.

The next day, my dear friend, Dafne, hosted Paul, I, Ilene, and her son, Jonas, for a delicious lunch at “818 Restaurant”, a Chinese restaurant on the 18th floor of the tallest building in Olomouc.  I had Jonas in one of my English classes many years ago, so it was especially sweet visiting with him now. Dafne also prepared homemade apple strudel for Paul..with his name baked right in.

Our team attended church at the Olomouc Baptist Church the following morning, and, afterwards, visited with everyone over pizza and coffee at Hrava Kava. Goodbyes are never enjoyable, but I prefer to say ‘see you later’ rather than goodbye. The situation may not be any different, but it sounds a bit more hopeful that way. Paul and I certainly hope to return to Olomouc again, although we do not know when that may be.

Next post: on to Kraków.

 

Off the Beaten Path in Oslo

That was the name of our bicycle tour yesterday. “Oslo Off the Beaten Path”.  We decided to go with the company “Viking Biking and Viking Hiking”, (#2 of 63 Outdoor Activities in Oslo on TripAdvisor) and since we had been to Oslo several times, we decided not to go with their Highlights tour.  Yesterday was our 34th wedding anniversary, and a day in Oslo was a great way to celebrate. The weather was forecast to be sunny and 80 degrees. We had a couple of errands to run while we were there, and we wanted to have a nice meal (meaning sit-down and not a kabob-to-go as our children may remember was all we could afford in 2002 on our trips to Oslo), but, otherwise, no agenda for the day.

Our tour consisted of 15 riders, between the ages of mid-20s to mid-60s, and one local guide. He had actually been a cast member for Disneyworld  for 15 months–working at the Norway part of Epcot–so his English was quite good. We began our tour at 10 am, and expected to return at 1 pm. There was a small mishap during our tour (it wasn’t me!), a rider fell and scraped herself in a few places, so we returned a bit later than expected.  Fortunately, we had, on our tour, two nurses, an orthopedic surgery resident, and another health care provider, so the patient was well-cared for.  Oslo does have several hilly portions of the city, so there were a couple of times where I had to dismount my bike and walk it the rest of the way up the hill, but, man, that last portion on the way back was fabulous–breezy, downhill, and a safe bike path. The long portion of the tour where we followed the Aker River through town was also lovely–tree-lined, bike path, mostly flat, and with occasional waterfalls.

Paul and I have taken bicycle tours of Paris, Prague, and New Orleans, and we have found them all to be great ways to see a city from a different perspective. I said early on our tour that we had already seen places I had never seen on our previous trips to Oslo.  We can recommend this method of visiting a new city wholeheartedly.

The place we chose for our lunch, Albert Bistro,–rather late at 3 pm–was along the Aker Brygge where the ferries and harbor cruise ships dock, with the large, brick, city hall in the distance.  Since the World Cup is happening in Moscow, and Sweden and England were competing against one another yesterday, there was a waterside restaurant with a giant outdoor screen showing the game and hundreds of restaurant guests watching the game.  It felt good to sit down for awhile, fill up on water (we drank over two liters), and people watch for a bit.

Our last errand for the day was to purchase a Norwegian item to donate for the Grand Forks Sons of Norway fund-raising raffle. Prices for high-quality goods are rather high, and I had done some research in Moss prior to this trip to Oslo so I would know what would be an appropriate item in our price range.  I remembered a good shop where Bonnie K. and I visited in 2015, and we were able to decide on a nice scarf. Yay, check that off our list!

Finally returned home at 9 pm (we had left at 7 am!), and, as Paul posted on Facebook, we had logged in 18,977 FitBit steps through the day. Whew. I wonder if they count the 2+ hours of pedaling we did off the beaten path?

Thanks for reading!

 

Nailed it.

Correct me if I am wrong, but that is the term used by Pinterest-viewing folk when they attempted to copy something they saw on Pinterest, but they didn’t exactly accomplish it to the level they had hoped.  Paul used this term when we were laughing about my attempt to recreate typical American food to serve at our little soiree last night. Basically, I came away with this: it may not be the best idea to try to copy American food unless you have all the ingredients and methods of preparation at your disposal.

Way back in ‘merica before we left, I purchased at Target in their cheap-o aisle some random Fourth of July things in case I had the opportunity to host a Fourth of July Fest. Cardboard coasters, napkins, an infinity scarf (cuz you just don’t know when you may need a patriotic infinity scarf). So, when it was clear that the 4th of July was open (i.e. our little church here was not having their usual Wednesday night Bible Time all during July because in July every single Norwegian takes off to the hills or seas or somewhere–more on that later), I started my plan to host a huge American-style Fourth of July BBQ (without an actual grill).

First, the guest list. Pretty much everyone. Okay, not everyone, but 22 people. Even though our little apartment only has a table for four. And one couch, two overstuffed chairs, two ottomans, a coffee table, and what looks to be an occasional table the size of a piano bench. I guessed we should make it clear that this was an open house, so please come when you can and leave when you must. [The invitations read: “Vil dere komme til vårt hus for en Amerikansk “Fourth of July Fest”. Onsdag 4 Juli klokka 6 til 10 pm. Det er en “open house fest”: kom når dere kan, dra når dere må”. Paul helped me with the translation.] I thought that way, maybe there would be enough seating at one time to fit everyone. I needn’t have worried.  Although my RSVP percentage was 100% (those Norwegian are so polite), most of our guest list was going to be out of town for that date. But, six of our friends were able to come, and we were delighted. And we had just enough water glasses to go around. We did not, however, have enough forks or dishes, so it was a good thing that a) the previous renters had left us a stack of paper plates (and what says ‘Fourth of July BBQ’ more than paper plates?) and b) Paul had gone to the market earlier in the day and picked up a box of plastic forks.

Now, about the food. Our menu was going to be typical American food–hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, watermelon, corn on the cob, potato chips, and for dessert, a Stars and Stripes cake with vanilla ice cream. Sounds uncomplicated. The potato salad was straightforward as was the watermelon and the potato chips. What became a little dicey was the type and preparation of the hamburgers and hot dogs, the buns, and the corn on the cob. The burgers were not the best (cuz, for one thing, the best would have been rather expensive), and the hot dogs, although the package promised us that they were ‘Norway’s most popular’ hot dogs, were not to the level, shall we say, that I would prefer my hot dogs to be (I like to buy Hebrew National, for example). The buns we bought (and there was only one type available) were fine for the hot dogs, but I thought the hamburger buns were dry.  Okay, the corn on the cob. Can I just ask, who would sell pre-cooked corn on the cob?? Ack! I live in the Midwest, my people, my kin, are corn farmers from Illinois. We buy ears of corn by the dozens in August/September when harvest time arrives. So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the first of three dual ear, vacuum-packed bags of corn on the cob, and discovered that they had already been cooked and only needed to be reheated. Reheated? I was basically going to serve my guests leftover corn? As I translated what the bag’s suggested reheating method was, I found it was to drop the sealed bags into boiling water for 5 minutes. Ugh.

The problems don’t stop there. My plan was to pan-fry the hamburgers ahead of time (remember, no grill, and I didn’t want to broil them in the oven ‘cuz I didn’t want our extremely sensitive fire alarm to go off–for more on that, read my earlier post from April 2015 when our fire alarm went off while I tried to make waffles at 5 am, and here in Norway, when the fire alarm goes off, the firemen come speeding to your house and you have to pay for it! ) and keep them warm in the oven. Also, I was going to boil the hot dogs (Paul thought this was a very bad idea, and he suggested that I pan fry or broil them as well, but I thought ‘no’ because of my previous statement). So, now we have, 20 minutes to 6 pm when our guests would no doubt be arriving right on time as all Norwegians do, three electric burners on and the oven warming up. Or so I thought. Then the hamburgers stopped cooking. The water for the hot dogs stopped boiling. The water with the bags of pre-cooked corn on the cob stopped boiling. And the light for the oven was off.  The oven and the range were not working.

Slight panic ensued. Until we thought to check the fuse box. Wherever that was. Paul translated the name under the one of ten switches that was not in the same direction as the others–‘range’. Bingo! Only had to switch it two more times during the cooking of our meal. So, by 6 pm, all was right with the world, except for the hamburgers which were sitting in a pool of grease in the oven.

Our guests were incredibly gracious and delightful. They brought hostess gifts–wine, an apron sewn by a Ugandan woman through the Norwegian mission agency Win-Win, and a Willow Tree figurine (entitled Beautiful Wishes) of a woman embracing a bouquet of calla lilies. It seems most Norwegians like to bring a little something when they are invited to someone’s home, oftentimes, flowers, a homemade food item, or a small gift.

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After Paul’s welcome speech and a song for grace for the food, we sang the National Anthem. You read that right. First, it was just me, then Paul joined in. By the time we were o’er the ramparts, the rest of the group was singing right along with us.  Pretty impressive. Not our singing, but that a group of people from another country knew our national anthem.

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The guests began leaving around 9 pm. We had coffee and my little flag cake with ice cream and homemade sølbær (sun berry–currants?) topping (gift from another friend) for dessert. It wasn’t my best cake–somewhat dry and hard, which may have been because it was kept in the icebox due to the whipped cream on the top. The whipped cream that I had painstakingly whipped in an old yogurt container with a whisk I had purchased the day before at the Fretex (Salvation Army Thrift Store).  You may ask, does everything have to be so dramatic? Yes.

p.s. there were lots of potato chips leftover, but not many slices of cucumber. This is Norway, after all.

American College of Norway–25th Anniversary Celebration!

One of the great bits of serendipity on our two month summer abroad adventure is that we are here, in Moss, to be able to take part in their several day celebration of their 25th year in existence. Paul has taught for ACN as a partner with UND twice before; Spring semester of 2002 and Spring semester of 2015. It was an extremely positive experience each time, and of course we would have desired to attend their festivities. However, had we not actually already been here, we could not have afforded the two round trip airfares and room and board for a short (or long) visit. BUT, here we are, and we were able to attend several events they had planned along with visiting alumni, both students and professors, staff, and, shall I say, dignitaries. 

The staff of ACN had been painstakingly working and planning for this week for a long time. It was obvious in their social media blitz, their decorations, their event programs, down to the toast in the historically significant room in the Konvensjonsgården, where, in 1814, the king of Sweden signed the constitution which transferred Norway from Danish ownership to Swedish ownership. [at this point, I asked Paul, ‘so, how is that beneficial to Norway?’ to which he said, ‘good question’.] But apparently, some terms of the constitution needed to be adhered to in order for Sweden to keep Norway, and in 1905 (yay!!), those terms were not met, so Norway gained her independence!! Thus, we all celebrate the 17th of May (or Syttende Mai). Whew. I didn’t expect to write a treatise on European political history.

Back to the celebratory events. We returned from our little hyttetur (see my previous post) last Thursday, and on Friday, Paul was able to join a bus tour of Moss and, more specifically, the previous locations of the American College of Norway during the past 25 years. There was one previous location on the nearby island of Jeløy in an old group home for the disabled, one was an old mansion which they outgrew rather quickly, one was in the Moss Library building which did not have space for student living quarters, and the present (and, I feel, the best) location is in the building they share with the aforementioned historically significant room in the Konvensjonsgården in the Verket neighborhood.  Since Paul taught in the building on Jeløy in 2002 as well as in the present building, he really enjoyed the tour. Plus, they all stopped at the Alby F 15 Cafe for lunch, so it was even better.

 

[You may be asking, where was I during this cool bus tour and lunch? Well, I had been previously invited to a friend’s house with some other ladies for coffee and cake. So, I was not just sitting at home alone. ]

 

After we both walked home, arriving within 15 minutes of one another, we were able to drop in on the waffle party open house which ACN was hosting in the dormitory garden area. Meeting up with additional staff I had not met before and previous professors at ACN was great; some of the guests had made a special trip to Norway just for this celebration.  Later, from about 5-7 pm, there was another open house at the school, where a cash bar had been set up (at fabulous prices, I might add. Paul bought two Coke Zeros to go at the end of the evening!), with snacks, a toast, room and time to mingle, great raffle prize opportunities, and some even stayed for pizza afterwards.

 

But, the big event, the finale, was the cocktail hour champagne toast which took place in the ‘room where it happened’ [nod to all my Hamilton-loving friends] followed by a banquet of delicious tapas-type delicacies in a nearby restaurant along a waterfall and river near the old mill area. There were speeches, old friends catching up (oh my, there were about 6 people from the first class in 1992!), a slide show, representation from the US Embassy, representation from the Norwegian Parliament (not to name drop, but he and his wife sat next to us!), and a marzipan cream cake with coffee to finish off the evening!

 

After all this, I am even more enthusiastic about the American College of Norway and our small participation in its work. Here’s to you, ACN, and another 25 years!