The Four Corners of Oslo

Yesterday, I went to Oslo to view four potential places as part of my house hunting quest. At least for Norway, the capital city is a huge hub, with a large network of trains, light rails, trams and busses. The area is loosely divided into different areas and each of these is much more distinct than those in Bergen (at least to me). Before you start reading I’d like to make a short disclaimer: while the properties I visited are somewhat representative of each area, they should not be used as the basis for judging each area itself.

 

Grønland

The moment you step into Grønland, you enter a whole new country. Foreign food shops line the streets, with outdoor food stands, kebab shops and pizzerias. People from Africa and the Middle East walk the streets, and many a women can be seen wearing hijabs. The streets have few cars yet are full of life and bustle. It is only a few minutes’ walk from the centre of the city and in extremely close proximity to all forms of transport. It is an extremely multicultural area, which reminded me a lot of Melbourne and certain suburbs surrounding my former home city.

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Grønland is littered with street stands and is a contains a mishmash of many foreign cultures (Photo: Nobel Peace Prize Forum)

This area of the city is undergoing gentrification, which is the transformation of an urban community into a much wealthier one. This can be achieved in a number of ways, and at least for Oslo, has involved the construction of the recent Oslo Opera House and the renovation of houses in the area. This was apparent by the apartment I went to view, which was very modern and totally unexpected for a place in this part of town.

 

Frogner

If you ask a Norwegian what Frogner is like, they will agree on one thing: it is a posh and rich area. It extends from behind the Royal Palace up to the edge of the famous, sculpture-filled Frogner Park. The buildings are quite old and unique in design, and apartments there are some of the most expensive in the country. I saw at a BMW parked in every street and even spotted one guy equipped with a set of golf clubs (I should also point out that golfing in Norway is a rather expensive hobby!). Nonetheless, it is a very nice, relaxed area of town.

The place I went to view in this area was definitely old. The ceilings were very tall and much light passed through the large windows. One corner was furnished with a very old, iron fireplace. But with old age came a lack of care and a strong need for renovation work. Unfortunately I was not sold.

Frogner in the winter (Photo: Anna Pavyluc)

Frogner in the winter (Photo: Anna Pavyluc)

 

St. Hanshaugen

Out of the four areas I visited, I have the least to say for this part of town. St. Hanshaugen lies in the centre of the Oslo district, which can make difficult to access different parts of the city depending on where you exactly live. It is considered one of the more hip areas, and the place I went to view had a nice looking café beside it. There are plenty of apartments meaning that it has become quite a family-centric place these past few years. I wouldn’t mind living here myself, as long as I had nearby access to trams which could take me to the university.

Grünerløkka

If cafés, bars and restaurants is what you desire, then this place is for you. With Sunday markets, small parks and vibrant life, Grünerløkka is considered the hipster part of Oslo. Spend long enough here and you’ll find enough street art to last you the day. And there’s plenty of music to go around too—I passed one park that was filled with the sounds of bass and hip hop. The Øya Festival here last week hosted artists such as OutKast, Queens of the Stone Age, Röyksopp & Robyn and The National.

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Street art is a common site in Grünerløkka (Photo: Leif Harald Ruud)

A side story: Grünerløkka’s grim grove
The place I went to view, however, was a story unto itself. It was an old looking collective hidden within a small courtyard and behind a wall of overgrown grass. When I went inside, I was welcomed by a pungent stench of incense with a hint of sweet, sickly weed. The host, who came across as carefree and relaxed, brought me down the hallway, which was plastered with brown cardboard boxes and duct tape, and bits of old newspaper stuck out between empty gaps. Dead CRT TVs rested in one corner and a stained mattress in another, with bits of rusted cutlery and dusty bowls sitting on top. One doorframe at the end of the corridor had been refashioned by thin pieces of tooth stained wood and nails jutted out from every corner.

The room itself was furnished with clothes strewn across the floor and useless household items, unfixable and beyond repair. As the host told me a little about the room, I heard the sound of somebody voraciously gnashing on a carrot behind me. I turned around, meeting eyes with a woman a little older than myself. She scanned my body as if trying to assess whether or not she wanted me. A little bewildered, I turned around and continued with the tour.

I was shown a few other rooms and eventually was brought to a spiral set of staircases that led to the second level of the collective. As I climbed up, I felt the whole structure rattle, as if I were on the set of a poorly budgeted movie. The kitchen itself was a horror: bits of food lay in every place imaginable and stains in every colour of the rainbow dotted the tables and stove tops, hopelessly beyond help from even the most trained of professional cleaners.

The living room was probably the most ‘normal’ part of the collective, although the bathtub in one corner and PVC pipe and wheelless skateboard in the middle certainly didn’t do much to help. The carrot crunching crone was now lying on one of the grapefruit coloured sofas, still staring at me intently. She lay flat on the chair, and her legs were spread out, as if inviting me to come join her. By this point, I clearly wasn’t interested. The host was telling me that the longest person who had lived there was himself, for only one and a half years. There was even mention of some guy called Pedro, who had recently quit his job and been spending his entire summer in the collective.

Past that, there’s not much else I can say. After leaving, I felt like I almost needed to sit down for a few of minutes to regain my thoughts. Never in my life did I imagine to view a place such as that and never in my life do I hope to do so again. Still, it made for a fantastic story!

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House Hunting

And so, the hunt begins! I am in the process of moving from one Norwegian city to another, and moving house never comes without challenge. How do you transport all your household items? Where do you go searching for a place? Will I find a place?

Last month, I accepted an offer for a PhD Research Fellowship at the University of Oslo, and there I will continue my studies in the field of ecotoxicology. The project there will combine facets of toxicology, ecology, environmental, climate change and Arctic science all into one, shiny gem. I am really excited to see where the job will take me and plan to post more about it once I flesh out the project’s details.

But for now, I must move. I am not very familiar with the process in Australia, partly because Bergen is the first place I have lived out of home. In Norway at least, one of the best websites to find property is through finn.no. It is closely equivalent to Australia’s gumtree website and in Norway, lessees will publish advertisements detailing rooms, apartments or houses for rent. Details include rental fee, deposit (a bond), period of availability, what the rent includes, what it doesn’t, whether the property is furnished, and a description of the property. Advertisements can be lengthy and sometimes include information about the tenants, the type of people the lessee seeks, and what transport might be in the vicinity.

banner1Another option of finding a place is by posting an advertisement of yourself online. This can be done through finn.no or another site, called hybel.no. Users post an advertisement about themselves, what they are looking for and clients can contact them about with information about property on offer. Some people opt for this as a passive approach, a bit like fishing if you will.

banner2banner3For me, I have adopted a two pronged-approach: I have placed an advertisement of myself on hybel.no as well as actively contacting lessees on finn.no. So far, I have had more luck contacting people than being contacted and actually have a viewing in Oslo tomorrow. Fingers crossed that it is the place to be.

Once you contact a lessee, they will often arrange an interview (either over the telephone, but preferably in person) to find a little more about you, what kind of person you are and whether you will make a good fit in the household. Sometimes they might request references (of other people you have previously lived with) and even proof of income. If all proves well, you will receive a contract!

In my case, time will tell. So far I am enjoying the game, and perhaps my prized abode lies beyond tomorrow.

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Norwegian Water

Today I stumbled across a surprising product at the supermarket. No matter how far away I am from Norway, the country still finds ways of making an appearance in one way or another. Today it presented itself in the form of water.

SAMSUNG

Voss Water is a brand of Norwegian water that comes from the town of Vatnestrøm in Southern Norway. The company entered the retail market in 2006 after supply to exclusive hotels and restaurants became less demanding. The product is now sold across the world, with headquarters in Oslo and in New York. Voss Water has been sold in Australian supermarket shelves these past few years, available in both glass and plastic.

Source: Google Maps

Map of Norway with Vatnestrøm marked in red. Source: Google Maps

Supposedly the water is sourced from an aquifer: an underground layer of rock that can store water and in effect, contains groundwater. Voss Water boasts this water comes from “the pristine natural environment” and so is “is free of contact with the air and other pollutants”. On the other hand, Norwegian media has reported that the water has the same source as tap water from the surrounding area. You be the judge.

Nonetheless, I prefer Norwegian tap water to Melburnian tap water. So regardless of where Voss Water is from, I’m just happy to have Norwegian water by my side!

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Reverse Culture Shock

Before I begin the next stage of my life in Norway, I have decided to take a short break and rest in Australia for the next month. While it’s nice to be back, I often find that being away from my home country for so long also comes with many surprises. These include reverse culture shocks—things that once were a part of everyday life now seem absurd or alien.

– Why does everybody pay by cash?

– All the fruit here looks like they’ve been pumped with steroids and polished with elbow grease. Apples are nearly twice as large here as those in Norway!

– Who in their right mind would want to buy 1 kg of instant coffee in a giant tin?

– When people ask me how I’m going, I start to tell them and they quickly lose interest. Why did they even ask?

– Why isn’t my house insulated from the cold winter weather? Isn’t that illegal?

– Why is that car on the right-hand side of the road?—no wait—it’s driving on the wrong side.

I’m sure I’ll get used to things here, but in these past few days I have frequently surprised myself with how accustomed and comfortable I have become to the Norway life. I wonder what else will surprise me during my stay here.

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Achievement Unlocked: Master of Science

I’ve done it. I’ve mastered Science! But I haven’t mastered Norway yet.

This past month has been tumultuous and full of surprises. I submitted my Master’s thesis on Monday the 2nd of July and presented and defended my work on the 18th. I am very pleased with my final result and have been able to celebrate with all my friends.

And as with every chapter, every story, every book, there must come a close. A final curtain call. With the finishing of a Master’s degree comes the unfurling of sails that become filled with winds representing hope and possibility. And thus, friendships set sail. Not in the sense of bonds and connections, but more in the literal meaning of word friend-ship. My friends have boarded new ships and now embark on their own journeys, headed in different directions. Some have returned home to their family, others will travel overseas. Some will stay in Bergen and here I stand, on my own deck, watching all my friends sail off beyond the horizon.

What do I do? Now I must make a choice. As this chapter of my life comes to a close, a new one begins. Ahead of me lie pages ready to be inked with stories of excitement and suspense. Plot twists and new discoveries. Do I stay in Bergen? Or do I move elsewhere? The possibilities are endless, but one thing is for certain—I’m still yet to unravel the enigma that is Norway and here is where I have decided to remain. For mastering Norway is what I set out to achieve and this I shall pursue beyond life as a Master’s student.

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A Tale of Three Cities

A Tale of Three Cities

DO YOU ever think about the key moments that brought you to where you are now? I do.

– March 8, 2011: I went to pub trivia and a spoke to friend who shared some information that would change my life. Our team came last in trivia.
– May 10, 2011: I sat a job interview for a graduate job and afterwards met a Norwegian that would change my life. I didn’t get the job.
– April 17, 2012: I received an offer to study a Master’s degree program in Biology at the University of Bergen. It wasn’t my first preference.

Three years have passed since then. And now I am at crossroads.

I stand in a big room with two exits. To my left is a glass door, where I can see what appears to be an endless field of luscious grass. I wanted to go there in the beginning, but the glass door just wouldn’t open for me. To my right stands a tall, wooden door, sealed tight. There’s a small keyhole below the handle and a slither of light shines through. I can’t make out what’s on the other side though.

Two weeks ago I sat an interview for a PhD position in Trondheim. And when it comes to job interviews, I begin to think about what might happen if were accepted for that position and have to move elsewhere. But there’s a PhD position in on offer Oslo and also in Bergen now. And so I begin to wonder even more…

I have decided that I want to continue life in Norway. I enjoy it here too much to leave just yet, and have full support from my family and many friends back in Australia to live here for longer. But I feel starting a PhD position in Norway is completely different than taking a Masters degree. I said to myself when I first moved here that ‘the worst that could happen is that I wouldn’t like it and I’d just go back home’. But starting a full-time paid job means that I’d be locked into living in one city for at least four whole years.

Bergen has been my home for nearly two years and I have met some amazing people here. But lately I’ve started seeing and spending less time with these people. Some of my friends have started to settle down so I see them less. Some friends have become busier so we spend less time together. Some friends will leave Bergen after I complete my Masters so I might not see them again. And I have become quite busy myself so I lack time to spend with others. All of this has made me feel…lonely. I am afraid that remaining in Bergen would inflate these feelings of anxiety and this isn’t healthy for me or anybody else. At the same time, I have developed a familiarity with Bergen and walking through its streets and hiking along its mountains instils a strange sense of familiarity within me. I guess that’s what it means to feel at home.

Trondheim is a nice place, but is one of the smallest populated cities I have ever travelled to. I am afraid that I will meet those feelings of anxiety there like in Bergen. This is perpetuated by the fact that I don’t know anybody there. Plus I would have to live there for four years and the thought of feeling ‘alone’ for that long concerns me. I hear that the student life is fantastic there, but no one can tell me what it’s like for doctoral students. Apart from that, the PhD position on offer there is exciting, and centers closer towards my interests than any other research project previously.

Oslo was my first preference for studying Masters. There are many things to do there and I enjoyed myself thoroughly when travelling through the city. However, accommodation is expensive and the PhD position on offer there is on a topic I am less familiar with (compared to the jobs in Bergen and Trondheim).

So the room I currently stand in is Bergen. Do I remain in this room, amidst my present concerns? Or do I consider moving to Oslo behind glass door, to the city I have always wanted to move to? Or what about Trondheim, the city I have only seen through a keyhole? That is, assuming I get to decide where I want to go.

I guess whatever decision I make or whatever option I am given from this point onwards will lead me to a new path. Maybe it will lead me to a door I didn’t notice before? While it never hurts to think about future options, I guess that over-thinking can be an unhealthy thing too. Then again, moving to Norway took a year in the planning, so maybe this whole process is shaping things to come for me and my life in this country.

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You know you’ve been living in Norway too long when:

– You get freaked out whenever cashiers try to start a conversation with you.

– You say ‘back in Australia’ instead of ‘back at home’.

– Road tunnels just aren’t that exciting anymore.

– You remember the last time you saw sunshine because it’s so dark here during winter.

– Your internet browser’s home page is a Norwegian news website.

– You refer to ‘heaters’ as ‘ovens’ and ‘mandarins’ (back in Australia) as ‘clementines’.

– You recognise different types of Norwegian cutlery at dinner events.

– You tell people your bank account number as if it was a street address.

– You can identify which objects in a person’s room are from IKEA.

Any others? Post them below!

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