Thursday, September 29, 2005

We are now Norwegians

Well not really but a Norwegian says we are. Our friend Marius took us out for a hike, which is the normal outing for Norwegians on Sunday afternoons. We took a bus and the subway to get out of the city. About thirty minutes north we ended up in a forest. There was a large lake and trails all over. The woods were “real” woods, which had wild animals in it. It takes three days to walk across it, and there are no fences to keep things in or out. It is like a smaller version of Yellow stone, only totally wild. We did not see any animals, not even a squirrel (another thing I have not seen since we moved here), but Marius told us how he has seen everything from Moose, Lynx and Bear.

Marius lead us through the woods and up some rock faces. The trail was slippery, rugged, and skinny due to the fact that other hikers made it. We all slipped and fell, and got very wet and dirty. We ended up at a cabin that served food and hot drinks to the hikers (skiers in winter). We ate our packed lunch and Marius had hot coffee. In the cabin there were little troll figures, not like the cartoon image that is popular in the tourist shops, but a more classic looking image. We took the main path back down, which was much easier but not as much fun. Marius told us that next we should spend the night before going on a long weekend camping trip.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Homesick


Some of the people at Trolltech have asked us how we are handling the home sickness? They all seem surprised when we tell them that we are not home sick at all. I’ll admit that we miss some of our belongings, but that is just because we have had them for a while and we still want them. Like our furniture and our collections. Of course we miss our families, and we will miss our three nephews growing up. When we left the youngest was only a year old. However we have lived in a different state then our families for three years. So missing the boys grow up is unfortunately not something new to us. Not seeing our families more then twice a year is also not new to us. So we really can’t miss them more now then we did in New Jersey or on Long Island. We have gotten used to moving around and an unfortunate by-product of that is getting used to saying good-bye to friends and family.

But as far as being home sick goes, how can we be? After all, we are home. I mean think about it. We live here, we work here, and we have friends here. We are forming routines here, and having new experiences. Most of all though, Ben and I are together here. We are our own family and have been for more then just three years. We are our own support structure. So it does not matter where in the word we live. As long as we are together we are always home. So if we are always home together, then how can we ever be home sick?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Spanish wrap up

All in all we had a great time. I was able to experience the city, and Ben was able to code all day. One other activity we were able to do together was a beach party. The city of Malaga put together a beach party for the developers at the conference. They served sardines and had an open bar. It would have been really nice if most of the developers had not taking advantage of the open bar and gotten really drunk. A lot of them got the idea to go skinny dipping. So the guys for Trolltech, Ben, and I walked on the beach and talked. It was an interesting experience to remember Spain by.

It was nice to go shopping in Spain because the currency was Euros, which is much easer to figure out then Krones. Also everything was much cheaper then it is in Norway. I was able to buy a few tools for half the price they would have been in Oslo.

It was nice to get home and return to our routine. We discovered that ten days is a little too much time to be away from home. I would guess that a week is the perfect amount of time to go away, before it starts to get boring. That said we are looking forward to our next adventure.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The language barrier

Norway has spoiled us with the knowledge that we can easily survive in a foreign country with out speaking the language. Almost every one in Norway speaks English, and going shopping or going to a restaurant is never a problem. We naively thought that Spain would be the same way. We quickly discovered all menus were only in Spanish, and getting directions required a photo of where I wanted to go. I had to take a taxi back to the hotel one day, but was unable to correctly pronounce the name of the hotel. I resolved to show the driven hotel door card. It had the hotel logo printed on the front. The driver understood and I arrived at the hotel a few moments later.

We learned to point a lot in Spain. You would be amazed at the number of uses for pointing in a foreign country. For example, you can order food. If the menu has photos then you can just point to the picture. If you see another patron eating something appetizing, then just point to it when the waiter comes for your order. It may be a bit rude, but you do not have many options.

You can also get directions by pointing. When I was walking to the Picasso Museum, I got turned around in the many side streets. I stopped a man passing by and pointed to my photo of the museum. I then pointed to the street I thought I needed to take and looked at the man and shrugged. He smiled and said “si”. A few moments later I found the museum.

We did incounter one situation where pointing was of no help. Ben, myself and four other “trollies” got stuck in the hotel elevator. Instead of going up, the elevator took us to the bottom of the shaft. The doors would not open, and the elevator would not move. Now this situation was not like in the movies and TV, were there are two people in a very large elevator. They sit and talk and laugh. Well we were in an elevator with six people that was only big enough to hold eight. Even thou it was not full it was very tight and heating up quickly.

We pressed the alarm button and a voice came on the speaker. She did not speak English. We asked for English but apparently no one in her office spoke it. She was asking us questions we did not understand, and had no hope of answering. Finally Ben suggested trying to manually open the door. Two other guys helped and thankfully it opened. We had to step up a bit, but everything worked out fine.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Spanish cuisine


Now anyone who knows Ben and myself know that we are simple eaters. We do not eat many spicy dishes, and tend to be a little picky with our food choices. I was relieved when our first meal was pizza, and the hotel restaurant had a wonderful grilled chicken breast. Ben and the guys often stayed at the conference until 9 o’clock, so most nights I ate at the hotel alone. My favorite part of the meal was the dessert. My favorite one was a double chocolate moose. It had a white chocolate mosses on top, and a milk chocolate layer on the bottom. Between the layers was a dark chocolate syrup with hazel nuts in it. This is probably not a local dish, but it was still good.
Sardines
I would guess that Sardines in Spain are the equivalent to chicken in the USA. Every restaurant has them roasting on an open fire. We went to one restaurant right on the beach where no one spoke English. We asked the waiter (also owner) what he would suggest and he offered the sardines. I ordered a chicken dish by pointing, and the guys ordered a vegetable dish (also by pointing). When the food arrived a plate full of assorted fried items that no one remembered ordering accompanied it. I spotted what I thought was onion rings, so I ate one. It was very good so I took another one. As I was biting in to it, Marius told me that it was a fried squid ring. Now I still think that it was good, but I did not eat any more. My mind could not get over the thought of eating squid.
Ice cream
There are a lot of ice cream parlors in Spain. The kind that has all the ice cream in a glass case arranged in long dishes instead of cardboard tubs. The ice cream was in many different flavors that we did not recognize. So we would try random variations that looked appetizing. The ice cream was not as creamy as in the USA or in Norway. It was like a combination of ice cream and Italian ice. It was cold thou, which was what we needed in the hot nights.
All thou we did not go out of our way to experience the local food, we did at least try some new stuff. One thing that makes me feel better about not getting in to the local foods was that most of the people that went to the conference became very sick with a harsh stomach bug. Although many things could have caused this virus, Ben and I were never sick. Sometimes it helps to eat what you can recognize.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sunning on the beach.

While the boys were at the conference, I took advantage of the Spanish sun and went to the beach. The beach was about a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel. The sand on the beach was a dark color and a bit gritty. There were hardly any shells or rocks to stub your toe on. There were no clouds in the sky, so the beach was covered in umbrellas and beach tents. The water was a cool retreat from the intenseness of the hot sun, and I must say that swimming in the Mediterranean Sea was very cool. I spent a few hours swimming, tanning and reading during the week.
Before we left, I went to the bookstore and bought two new books for the trip. “The Secret Life of Bees”, by Sue Monk Kidd, and “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult. I figured that in ten days I could finish one, and get halfway thou the other. Unfortunately I underestimated my reading skills and by the fourth day I had finished both books. Luckily I enjoy reading books more then once to find details I might have missed the first time.
By the end of the ten days all my burns have melted away to form a nice even tan. The boys however are all as white as the day we arrived. They had fun in the lecture halls so in the end we all enjoyed our stay.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Out and about in Spain

Even though going to Spain was a vacation for me, Ben had to go to work every day. I spent most of my time sight seeing alone. I had a great time roaming the city and traveling on the busses to the local sites. While in Spain I was able to visit these exciting attractions:

Laguna de Fuente de Piedra nature reserve;
The lagoon is about an hour away from the city. I got directions and grabbed a bus. The bus was similar to a Gray Hound bus with cushion seats and curtains in the windows. When the bus arrived at the station in Andalusia, I walked for a half hour down the highway to the Lagoon.
The Lagoon is the most extensive one in the area and is the second most important one Europe. It is also an important site for the largest colony of flamingos in the Iberian Peninsula. The water is deep blue and surrounded by lush foliage. So I am sure you can imagine my disappointment when I arrived at the reserve only to find a giant sand pit. Of all the people I asked directions to in the past two and a half hours of travel time, no one thought to tell me that the lagoon dries up at this time of the year. I had to wait two more hours for the bus to return, and another two until I returned to Malaga. So in total I spent about seven hours going nowhere. The bus trip went thru the mountains, so at least that part was neat.

Alcazaba;
The Alcazaba is a military fortress built be the Moors in the 11th century. The fortress lies on a hilltop with amazing views of the town and the sea. The hike up the steep sloping walk way was an extreme work out. On the way up I met a lady named from Florida named Malaina. She could speak Spanish, so she translated all the sighs for me. She is afraid of heights, so I helped her gather the courage to climb the stairs to the top of all the towers. It was a wonderful time exploring all the nooks of the fortress. I ended going twice, once by myself and once with Ben. When I went the second time with Ben, we discovered a section of the ruinis that I had missed with Malaina. The archatecure was inspiring even though to get there caused you to loose a pound of sweat.

The Roman Theater:
The Roman Theater is located just below Alcazaba, but was not discovered until 1951. It is thought that the last event at the theater accrued the 3rd century and that the Moors used elements from the theater to build Alcazaba. Today the theater is mostly closed off, but there are a few stone rows the public can sit in.

The Picasso Museum;
Picasso was born in Malaga and there is an impressive collection of his work on exhibit at his museum. There were examples from all of Picasso’s phases of art, and some of his sculptures. The most interesting display was a sequence of sketches showing the progression how a painting of his developed. There were a few progressions that actually ended in the finished work. It was fascinating to see how his thoughts and ideas changed thru the six sketches of the same piece until the finished painting.

A bullfight
I never thought that I would attend a bullfight. The violence and cruelty has turned me off the sport since I first realized how the bulls suffer. However like I said, I was eager to experience the culture and events of Spain. So I was open to the idea of going to one. When I read about one on Thursday, I figured that since I would never be in Spain again, it would be my only chance to see a real Spanish bull fight. So I boarded the bus and went to the near by city of Torremolinos where that nights fight was being held. I had to walk about a half hour to the ring where I found two German tourist that spoke English. The also spoke Spanish so they helped me get my ticket and I sat with them during the fight. They were very interesting to talk to, and they brought a bottle of wine to the fight that I thought was strange. They thought that I was strange for not drinking any so it worked out. I will not go in to the details about the fights for it was bloody. Although it was violent, sad and horrific, it was also strangely exciting and exhilarating. At least until the matadors started to stab the bulls. There were six fights, but after four I had seen enough and decided to leave. Watching the crowd’s reactions was another experience. They would whistle if they did not like how the fight was progression, and would wave white cloths if they were happy. If the crowd really liked the fight, they would throw their hats in to the ring so that the Matador could throw them back. All in all it was an interesting experience that although horrific, I am glad I went.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The ambience of Spain;

Spain was both beautiful and ugly at the same time. The environment was breath taken. The ocean meets a deep blue cloudless sky, which met at the horizon in a way that seemed seamless. The city of Malaga is surrounded by towering mountains and doted with palm trees. The sun was warm and constantly beet down on us. A cool breeze and zero humidity made us forget the temperature reaching to the 100’s. Ancient structures rise between modern buildings. Thick defensive damping walls ascend high above city streets, lining the old Moors fortress. The combination of the natural environment, the hot weather, and the ancient architecture made our trip to Spain worth the aggravation of travel.

On the other side of the scope, the city itself left much to be desired. The only word to describe the city is dirty. Where our hotel was located we could see many empty lots coved in litter. Due to the lack of rain, the city is very dusty. A thin layer of dust blankets most cars you see. All of the sidewalks are tiled in differing patterns thru out the city. Normally this would be an intricate detail that adds charm to any European city. However this same tiled sidewalk in Malaga is dotted with the resident’s dog droppings. The last thing that takes away from the beauty of Spain is the smell. There is a smell thru out the city that stops you from taking a deep breath. The dust in the air forces you to cough now and then, no matter how many shops you enter. The worst smell was one similar to sulfur. I do not know where it was coming from, but every three blocks or so, you would be impaled with a strong sulfur odor. It would last for about a block and was so pungent that it would linger in your throat, even thou the smell was undetectable.

Even though the city’s hygiene was not on par with the landscape, our time in Spain was wonderful. I took advantage of what the city had to offer and soaked in the natural beauty of Spain. You make your own enjoyment of a new experience based on your egerness to take in a culture or event. I was so excited to explore Malaga and its landscape, that I hardly noticed the city’s condidtion. We had a wonderful time, and made the most of this one chance trip
A return to cold weather

Well we are finally home. I will spend some time today writing with more details. In short we had a wonderful trip, and have lots of stories and photos.