day 3 – vacations are not mixtapes

i’ve watched high fidelity a few times and i’ve made a few mixtapes, and one of the rules i live by on that front is that track 3 should be a monster. unless you’re going theme, track 3 should be the point where you, by way of the mix, stand and get attention.

vacations aren’t like that. day 3 of a vacation is when you’ve gotten the good stuff out and you’ve settled in to where you are. day 1 is the travel day, shaking off the nerves. day 2 is the day you get your number one thing in – for me, it was dog sledding, though to be fair i didn’t know that was number one ahead of time.

day 3 here hasn’t been wolf like me. for starters, it snowed all morning. the snow came down in droves, casually, like it wasn’t even there. the clouds were there the whole time, and there is 4 feet of snow on the ground everywhere, so who cares about a little bit more snow? then i got in the car to go to town to run an errand (i don’t run errands at home, but on vacation, apparently its a nice diversion) and i realized that these roads were all very clear before and i hadn’t driven in snow in a while and did i still remember how to do this properly? but then i did and it was fine.

but what i’m saying is this: snow in cleveland and boston was like this, but it was kind of a big deal. it was like “ok, here it comes again, be safe and smart, save your parking spots, drive slowly, things are mostly open”. if it snowed in DC like this, forget it. everything is shut down.

here, its just a fact of life. in fact, i drove down fv292 (where the house is) to e8 (the big main highway) and it wasn’t even snowing down there anymore. and i came up to the highway and the water (there is water everywhere and it is awesome) and the sky broke and everything was golden and it was amazing. and i went down to town and everything was normal and fine, even though the roads weren’t cleared and there was a good amount of fresh snow everywhere.

and i came back and the snow had cleared and the roads hadn’t yet because who gives a CRAP you already live above the arctic circle so just deal with it. and people were blazing by me at 90km/h on snowy roads because, listen, the snow came down casually and get over yourself.

anyway, it snowed today. and i went to town. and it turns out no one carries contact solution. and then i came back here and i wrote some code and i drank some blue label and it definitely wasn’t a track 3, it was more of a miles davis sketches of spain situation, but at the end of the day i am pretty sure that is what vacation is all about.

tomorrow is my shot at the northern lights. there was activity the first night i was here, but it was too cloudy to see anything other than this beautiful blue pre-dawn at 2am. tomorrow is my shot, but even if it doesn’t hit, i’m pretty happy with wherever i am.

day 2 part 2 – nom nom nom nom

i forgot to eat yesterday.

well, i didn’t really forget. i just didn’t eat yesterday. everything closes early on sunday and by the time i got to the house, all the stores were closed. so, i didn’t eat.

today i went down to the town about 20 minutes away and bought pretty much all the cured meat and fish i could find, plus a loaf of bread, a little bit of cheese, and some other stuff. here are the top 3 things i’ve eaten in norway so far:

  1. smoked salmon. good lord. so smoky and delicious.
  2. spiced meat rolls – i’ve had lamb, beef, and ‘jam’ which i think means mixed. who cares, they are all super tasty with bread.
  3. kinder maxi, because obviously

i’m pretty excited about this creme brulee pudding i found, and that might bump the kinder. also just missing the top 3 is norwegian coke, which: coca-cola is maybe the greatest pleasure in the world because it is at once different based on where you are and also the same as you expect it to taste because it is home. they use real sugar here too, so that helps. finally, blue label is disqualified because it isn’t specific to this trip, though i have had a few glasses of it and it is pretty amazing.

last place on things i’ve had are norwegian anchovies. they are meatier than other anchovies and less salty, but i’m pretty sure i need to do some prep to make them not unbearable, and i don’t know what that prep is. tomorrow, i will either eat more of this cured meat platter or i will go find some place that will serve me reindeer. i am not sure which.

day 2 part 1 – dogs!

first things first: i made a photo set on flickr. go, look.

yesterday, i mentioned that the neighbor tomas offered to take me dog sledding today. i said yes right away, and today around 330p local time we went.

there are two things about dog sledding that you need to know. first: you sit in a small sled while dogs pull you and your guide steers standing behind you. you can’t see your guide, you just hear him and see the dogs. more on this in a second. the second thing you need to know doesn’t require any embellishment: these dogs eat a lot and use a lot of energy and metabolize like crazy, and there is no time to stop for pooping or peeing. so, there is a decent amount of pooping and peeing in front of you. its pretty reasonable when you break it down, but its also a bit goofy.

now, back to that first thing: listen, you aren’t listening, just listen: you are on a sled and these dogs are pulling you up and down hills and across frozen rivers and through forests and you have no idea where they are going and there is nothing holding you down or keeping you from flying off this sled except your guide has done this a thousand times and you trust him but you can’t even see him so i guess you trust in the dogs? this is basically why i don’t understand religious people, but i kind of respect them.

i got to tomas’s house and he put me in a snow suit and all 26 of his dogs (honestly, i didn’t count but it seemed like a lot more than 26) started barking and getting excited because they knew some of them were about to get to go on a nice long walk. tomas picked out 6 dogs and got them all linked up, and then he had me get in the sled and his house dog (the only dog that wasn’t initially tied up) ran ahead and led the group and we started. so i didn’t put anything about my previous first dog sledding fact together until we started. as soon as i sat down i realized “wait, i hate roller coasters, what the fuck am i -” and we were off. and man, those dogs start out of the gate fast, running and then going down these hills and then crossing a frozen river and back up the river bank and then running through an open field until tomas settled them down into a trot. at one point i realized being afraid was stupid because “man if those dogs can run down that hill i sure as shit can get pulled down it by them”. which… i’m not sure if that makes sense, but here we are and i’m alive and i definitely stopped being afraid at that point.

so like i said, we went through open snow and across frozen rivers and streams and through forests and up and down hills and i got to see the backcountry of this already country region. it was thrilling and fun and awesome and … well, bumpy at times too i guess. it was great. the dogs were great, they are so well-trained and so capable – they did 30km like it was nothing, with little more than a 4 minute break at the turn-around point. and they were so unbelievably happy the whole time. at the turn-around point, tomas mentioned to me that normally he would take 16 dogs out for this ride, but only 6 today because there wasn’t enough soft snow and the ground was too hard to control 16 dogs. i cannot imagine having 16 dogs in front of me. 6 was plenty.

back to yesterday: i mentioned one of the things i was afraid of while traveling, but here is another – without someone else with me, would i do fun things? i’m not talking about not sharing this with someone else. i’m talking about pushing myself to do fun things and actually taking advantage of this vacation. this melts away really quickly when i remember that of all of the people i know, i’m the crazy gambler. this vacation is a casino and i am not here to just toy around.

i’ll post part 2 in a little bit, and it will be mostly concerning food. i’ll dig into how beautiful it is here tomorrow, i hope. look at the photos though – you can tell how beautiful it is.

day 1 – just afraid enough

this is the end of a very long day 1 of my epic scandinavian adventure. i am currently a little over a hour outside tromsø, norway, at this airbnb i found. the goal is to come up here and work on ottoneu for 5 days, maybe see the northern lights, read a bit, and relax a lot. after that, i’ll head down to copenhagen for a bit more of the same, though with more bars and restaurants and less smoked fish by myself in the middle of nowhere.

so, that’s the overview. day 1 started yesterday (2/15) around 3pm, when kacey dropped me off at dulles. though, to be fair, day 1 started when i started planning this trip. i wanted to see the northern lights and i wanted to travel alone – these were the big adjustments from my australia vacation. the thing is: i’ve never traveled alone before. i was pretty sure i could do it, but there are things i was (and am, to an extent) nervous about, headlined with being a brown person in a strange land. in america, fine. but in europe? for god sakes, there are nazis here! i mean, somewhere around here, i think. like, that guy could be a nazi. he could also just be YET ANOTHER TALL BLONDE SUPER POLITE GUY. whatever. see what i’m saying?

yesterday after i got to dulles, i started texting zach. kacey and i and zach and i have talked about this stuff, so it was rehashing old material, but i was telling zach that i was about to get on the first plane of my 3 plane trip to tromsø and that i was afraid. just afraid enough. i was nervous about the people, nervous about going alone (both getting lost and not sharing the experience), nervous, nervous, nervous. but i wasn’t so nervous to the point of paralysis. i was ready.

so i got on a plane and that was a long ass flight to copenhagen and then i saw the copenhagen airport which looks EXACTLY LIKE YOU THINK IT DOES and then i got lip from the passport control guy asking me why i’d ever want to go to norway (as if denmark isn’t a cold, dark, bleak country in february. listen man, it’s all cold and dark and bleak over here so why not fucking go for it?) and then i got on a shorter flight to oslo and then i ran into my first real resistance of the trip. oslo is where i needed to go through customs and re-check my bag. i had a 1 hour layover (i decided to make all the layovers super short, just to keep me on my toes i guess), and the bags took a while to come out here. upside: i got some really solid cuban cigars to complement the johnnie walker blue i purchased at dulles. downside: i got my bag about 15 minutes before boarding started for my flight. fast forward to a 20 minute security line after checking my bag, and a very polite security officer that apologetically had to open up the blue label box and had trouble getting everything boxed back up afterward, and i ended up being paged in norwegian for being the only person not on the plane to tromsø. at least, i think that is what i was paged for. it was in norwegian. i don’t know norwegian.

oslo was a bit stressful, but everyone is so polite and caring that it is impossible to be mad. this is a stark difference from america, where i try hard not to be mad at people who don’t care. i don’t know why this is, there is a whole shitload of stuff to unpack there, but there it is.

tromsø is a quaint airport and a quaint town and wonderful in every way. when you see it on a map, it is impossible not to think that someone decided to live here just to show that human beings can live here. then you SEE tromsø and how it is constructed and how the islands and mountains and water and everything play together and you almost forget for a second that it is always incredibly cold up here and you kinda see the appeal.

this last stage of the trip had the most peril, and it was entirely self-inflicted. i’m basically an idiot and got a bunch of the stuff i was nervous about out of the way at once.

  1. i put the wrong date in my rental car reservation
  2. tromsø is a small town, and if you are running europcar on a sunday and no one is coming in with a reservation, you don’t sit around at the airport
  3. i never got a sim card today. tomorrow i have a plan, but today was cell phone-less until i got to the house.

this combined to a situation in which i had to call the europcar people but had no phone, then when i borrowed a phone and thankfully got the car, i had no phone to help me navigate to where i needed to go, so i ended up guessing on 90% of the route, trying 3-4 times to get sim cards and failing, missing the turn to the road this house is on, then after correcting that driving up and down the road without an address just trying to find a house that looked like the thing i kinda remembered from airbnb.

somehow the first house i walked up to (and trust me, there are 4-5 boxy blue-gray houses on this street, and a lot more of those houses when its getting dark and you’re worried about sleeping in your car) was the right house. and now i’m in the house and i have wifi and a plan on getting food and a sim card tomorrow.

the neighbor came over a bit ago. he saw my car in the driveway and wanted to say hi. he helps the main owner take care of this place. within 5 minutes he was asking me if i wanted to go dogsledding tomorrow.

everyone here is so amazingly nice and the things i was nervous about are melting away, or alternately i’m finding out i can deal with the things i was worried about. i was in the middle of nowhere, above the arctic circle, trying to find a house from a memory of a photo and i got there. so, you know, i can probably deal with most of this traveling alone shit.

i’m going to delve into this way more in day 2 i hope, but it should be said that this entire region is one of the most beautiful places i’ve been to. choppy steel blue water in between stark, severe mountains, with clouds helping create an amazing golden hour and amazing sunset. blues and grays and a tiny bit of yellow. just wonderful. i hope i can capture it.