Category Archives: Travel

Friday Photo: Matt-fjords-crazy and a story of filenames

Matt-fjords-crazy

I named the file for this photo Matt-fjords-crazy.jpg. There’s quite a logic to it, despite what you may think. First, I keep a separate collection of photos with me in them on my computer under the Pictures folder. I started doing this after I realized how annoying it was to have to search through all of my photos (which are organized chronologically by year in folders, then sub-folders for each day that I took photos with my Nikon D90 and imported them into Adobe Lightroom…it’s a great system, just occasionally over organized!) anytime I needed to quicklyfind a photo for an online bio, profile pic, or avatar.

All the photos are named “Matt-whatever-whatever” so I can quickly remember where the photo was taken and whether or not the photo is professional quality or not. Compare the above (Matt-fjords-crazy) with below (Matt-Staten-Island-Ferry), which, although my face is partly covered by a camera is nonetheless a more serious photograph.

Matt-Staten-Island-Ferry
A photo of Matt on the Staten Island Ferry as he photographs the Statue of Liberty. Photo by Karen Cook. How many more times can I squeeze the word photo into this caption?

Anyway, the “crazy” part of the file should be self explanatory. The “fjords” part comes from the location where this was shot: on a hike from Myrdal down to Flåm (Norway) or a part of the 2012 Norway fieldwork that I collectively remember as “the fjords trip.” How catchy. Anyway, I taught on Norway and the Nordic countries today in Geography 101, so in honor of that, I give you Matt-fjords-crazy.

Speaking of photos, I’ve been doing a better job lately of regularly uploading a photo (on average, one a day — OMGOSH!) to my preferred photography sharing site, 500px. If you are interested in seeing some that you may have missed, head on over to 500px.com/matrcook.

Christchurch Cathedral


Christchurch Cathedral by Matthew Cook on 500px.com

Christchurch Cathedral by Matthew Cook

Boarded windows and a damaged monument are what remain to hint at the former splendor of the Christchurch Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand (designed by George Gilbert Scott and consecrated in 1881). The cathedral was greatly damaged by a series of earthquakes in 2011 and began to be demolished in 2012. Demolition was temporarily halted through a combination of legal action and protest by heritage groups including the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in mid-2012, but after court rulings, the Anglican church leadership was allowed to proceed with further demolition work. At present, it is unclear whether the church will opt to rebuild a cathedral on the existing Cathedral Square now that a temporary cathedral – the first in the world to be constructed largely of cardboard – has been built for the Anglican congregation to resume its worship.

Quick check-in: Oslo 2013

Hi all,

I thought I had better post at least something to my blog as a record of my trip to Oslo in 2013 even if I only have five people who read my blog. Karen is doing a much better job of blogging, and she has tons of followers somehow! I’d say it’s not fair, but she does put more effort into it…

Anyway, two busy works days down in Oslo, and about three work weeks to go. This weekend all of Norway celebrates two holidays – a one of our interview participants put it yesterday, “We get one day off for Jesus and one for the constitution.” Friday is Norwegian Constitution Day, the major national holiday (think Independence Day, all you Americans). Monday is the Pentecost bank holiday, so most everyone doesn’t work then either. Sort of bad timing for research purposes, but super cool that our team gets to experience the national holiday.

I got my desk and security card for Fafo today, and I should be there all day tomorrow to work on my dissertation research and Micheline’s project. So far, I’ve been splitting my time between finishing the revisions for publication of my thesis research on the Stolpersteine Project and working on scheduling interviews for Micheline’s NSF project (for which I am her research assistant, just on the off chance you didn’t know). We’ve had quite a lot of success lining up interviews for the first two weeks of the fieldwork, during which our two undergrads are here. Some of our interviews will also help my dissertation research, but I will do more on my own during the second two weeks. So maybe I’ll have time to post about that research then, but don’t count on it. I treasure sleep too much most evenings!

I’m sure there is more that I could say, but I’m currently drawing a blank and I’ve got to get back to my revisions. If I were going to give short recaps, I’d tell you:

  • Weather hasn’t been that great while we’ve been here. It’s rained harder than normal, and everyone’s told us this is a colder than average spring.
  • Washing dishes by hand almost everyday is a pain, but that’s what you get when you rent an apartment after only seeing one photo. Speaking of apartment photos, I think Karen is working on a post with those right now…
  • The bathroom is small. Like ridiculously small.
  • Several of the staff at Fafo remembered me from last year, and we already started catching up on the last several months. Their kindness and generosity constantly impress me, and it is really nice to know people in a foreign country, especially in comparison to Berlin in summer 2011 when Karen and I were pretty much alone for a month.
  • Norwegian TV is pretty cool. The apartment I stayed in last year didn’t have one, but even the basic channels have a lot of American TV and the Norwegians don’t dubbed anything, so we watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a few nights ago, and Karen’s had the TV on for several American TV shows while I’ve been working the last few nights.

That’s all for now. Oh! Wait, now I remember what I was going to say earlier! Karen asked if we could take a train to Sweden one weekend so we can see more of Scandinavia on the cheap. Except it isn’t cheap. So if anyone wants to loan me about 500 bucks… let me know.

Thoughts and Observations on Oslo

My fellow research assistant, Grace, and I came up with a list of many interesting and/or surprising observations on our time in Oslo several days ago. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

  1. Everybody’s pregnant! Or they have 0-5 year olds. (We’ve also heard time and time again from our research that family is hugely important, and with social support for families as good as it gets, why not?)
  2. Also interesting to note about Oslo’s demographics: There is a conspicuous lack of 10-18 year olds. Where are the teenagers? Are they in short supply, or do they just hang out where we don’t?
  3. Hardly ANY insects. Except ants and a few small flying things like gnats or fruit flies. Given the climate, this sort of makes sense, but coming to Oslo from “Spring Time Tennessee” makes the lack of insects VERY noticeable (and appreciated!)
  4. Why are there jellyfish in the fjords around Oslo?? It’s COLD!
  5. Surprisingly – Oslo is very “non-white” (my neighborhood, Tøyen, is particularly notable for its immigrant population), but at the same time, it is NOT well integrated. The “cold Norwegian” stereotype does exist to a degree.
  6. There are high numbers of British, French, and German tourists – perhaps because their economies are doing well – and we’ve seen a lot of Asian tourists, too.
  7. Oslo is a relatively clean city – especially in comparison to places like New York or Berlin. (Or even Knoxville)
  8. Also in comparison to other cities, there are very few homeless people. Perhaps again, this can be attributed to a strong social welfare system. (The US could learn a thing or two…)
  9. The streets are very quiet. Hardly any sirens in the distance, and public transit seems to be about the loudest thing one hears.
  10. So many dogs out and about! Oslo is very much a dog-friendly city.
  11. Men seem to be WAY more involved in their family life – we frequently see men playing with their children all around town, and we’ve even had some men bring their babies to work at Fafo.
  12. Music festivals and concerts seem to be the norm on Summer weekends. It’s surely not like this year ’round, but when the weather is nice, you have to take advantage!
  13. There isn’t much written English except in advertisements, but just about everyone speaks it if needed.
  14. People come to Oslo for education and/or work, but Bergen is the real cultural hub of Norway

That’s all we wrote down nearly two weeks ago. I can’t think of too many other things to add. Oslo is expensive, of course, but that wasn’t a surprise. Food costs and other goods (clothes, electronics) aren’t much more expensive than in US big cities – being a tourist in NYC for a week earlier this year was definitely comparable. The big difference seems to be housing costs and taxes – neither of which we really have to deal with, aside from a month’s rent and tax on our food.

Well, I guess that’s all for now. On the whole, Oslo is a very “liveable” city – something I will probably be frequently reminded that Knoxville is not for the first few weeks back in the States. Only five more days…

A [minor] Tragedy

Hi everyone,

I’m sure you’ve all been anxiously awaiting another posting since my first (and only) post over here in Oslo. Well – a few things about that. First, the team I am a part of has been extremely effective/busy, working roughly 40 hour work weeks, and the project is going quite well for now. So, on the one hand, research is great, and it has kept me away from writing down my thoughts for you to peruse.

Second, I may not get around to editing and uploading photos until after I get back to the states next week. (Yes, oddly enough, time is flying and I’ll be back in Tennessee late next Thursday. Crazy!) However, I think that photos are the best way for me to tell the story of the fun parts of the trip, so that may never end up in a blog format, but only as a photo essay on Facebook. I guess I’ve come to terms with Zuckerberg stealing the rights to my photos…because I stopped paying for a Flickr pro account after lack of use.

Second point five (2.5) – here comes the minor tragedy that befell me. Right before heading off on Friday to explore other parts of Norway (mainly some of the western fjords and Bergen), I had one of those situations that could have gone terribly wrong, but narrowly did not. (Anyone ever have those?) Just before leaving on Friday morning, I packed my entire camera backpack for the trip – removing the non-essentials, packing some food and clothing for the weekend, etc. I sat down at the desk in my room for a couple of minutes, and then *wham.* My backpack fell to the floor from a two-foot high bed. At first, I didn’t really think anything bad about this: my laptop wasn’t inside, and it has fallen from a bed before without any incident. Then I started to think to myself, “What if this was the one time things went wrong?”

It turns out, they did (sort of). I looked at how the bag fell, and sure enough, it was right on the camera compartment. I opened that section of the bag to find the lens cap to my 18-105mm zoom lens (my “everyday” lens, if you will) smashed in… And this was the point I thought was going to be really, really bad. I was able to pry the lens cap off, and through the mess of broken glass I found to my relief that the only glass that broke was the protective UV filter that every good SLR photographer knows to put on his/her lenses. *Whew.* Listening to my dad/Scott Kelby/every other photographer and photography book out there paid off big time: I only have to replace a ~$20 filter instead of a ~$400-500 lens. However, I wasn’t able to clean out all of the broken glass from underneath a plastic ring on the front of the lens, so I decided to just shoot the rest of the trip using my other lenses and have this lens professionally cleaned when I get back to the states. So, long story short – I shot almost all of the three-day weekend trip across Norway with the 35mm fixed lens I got for Christmas last year. (Thanks, Anita and Karen!) It turned out to be both fun and challenging to work that much with a lens that does not zoom, so in the end everything worked well.

Third, the trip this weekend to see other parts of Norway was an amazing adventure, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. In brief, we took a train from Oslo to Myrdal, then hiked 21 km (basically a half marathon) down from Myrdal to Flåm all in one day. We spent the night at a youth hostel/camp ground in Flåm before waking up very sore and then taking a two-hour boat cruise through the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord to the tiny town of Gudvangen. At Gudvangen we had lunch from a camp stove (better than it sounds, believe me), and that afternoon we took a bus to Voss and then another to Bergen. Up until the bus ride, the weather was quite nice with lukewarm temperatures and overcast skies. At some point on the bus ride to Voss, the rains poured forth and basically didn’t let up until we left Bergen. So we got to experience Bergen as it truly is: a city aptly nicknamed “The City of Rain.”

That’s all I really have time for at the moment, so you will have to wait until I find more spare time to write. I have one blog post of “Observations about Norway” waiting in my Moleskine, so that should be a quick update I can hammer out soon. Stay tuned!

Oslo in a Day

Yesterday was quite a busy day! Or perhaps I should say busy afternoon. I set my alarm for 9 a.m. after getting to bed around 11 the night before – all in all, a pretty good way to fight off jet leg. (This is about as good as I’ve ever done with jet lag in Europe!)

Anyway, after the flight arrive in Oslo on Friday, Micheline met Grace and I at the airport and helped us find the correct public transportation cards (a month pass that pretty much covers every mode of public transit for a month) before we got on a train to the city’s main train station, Oslo S. (S for Sentralstasjon). Then, Grace went with Kevin to find her apartment, while Micheline and I were unable to get in touch with anyone at my apartment. So we hung out at Micheline and Kevin’s apartment for a while, until I looked about ready to fall asleep, so we went for a walk. While on this walk around the neighborhood, I had the brilliant idea of just going to the apartment and ringing the bell (because calling the number I had been given wasn’t working) and that worked out pretty well. I got the keys to the apartment, but I didn’t have my luggage, so we went back to Micheline’s apartment to wait for dinner. At this point, I fell asleep on their couch while watching Mythbusters on the Norwegian equivalent of Discovery Channel.

After a wonderful dinner of homemade pizza (thanks, Kevin!) we decided to explore Oslo on Saturday, since it was the National Music Day. There were around 30 stages set up all over Oslo, and different bands, rap artists (Norwegian rap is comically bad, by the way), choirs, etc. were performing 15-30 minute shows all afternoon. Kevin had seen on the schedule that choirs were performing at a stage in Akershus Fortress, so the plan was to meet by the tiger statue at the Sentralstasjon at 1 p.m. before heading to Akershus. I went over to the station a couple hours early to find brunch, as I hadn’t bought any groceries yet. There are two malls around Oslo S, so I explored the one directly connected to the station and bought some (relatively) cheap breakfast items from a mini-grocery store. This is a very European thing to do: firstly, to have a mall attached to a train station so that all kinds of shopping can be done on the way to or from one’s train; and secondly, to have a small grocery store inside a mall.

After breakfast, I sat outside the station for a while in a few different spots. First, I was listening to the sound check of some screamo-band on a stage a block away from the station, but after they started playing their set, I migrated over to the tiger statue to listen to a trumpet player playing familiar radio songs with accompaniment from some sort of iPod-speaker set up. Micheline showed up a little before 1; she was apparently going to meet Grace earlier in the morning to buy a European cell phone (Grace’s turned out not to work), but Grace never showed. After Kevin met us at the tiger, we decided to head to Grace’s apartment, and indeed, she was still asleep. With her in tow, we headed for Akershus and finally got some nice views of downtown Oslo. I promise to post pictures to Facebook soon! After eating lunch (also bought hastily at a grocery store), we found the stage on which choirs were performing. The first group was singing American radio songs (including Lady Antebellum’s “I Need You Now” – hilarious!) and they were pretty good, but unfortunately it went downhill from there. The next group was smaller and made up of mostly middle-aged women with four men. The director said they had been singing together for 30-something years. They were ok, but sang entirely in Norwegian and Swedish. After that, an even older (average-age-wise) choir took the stage, so we took off toward downtown again.

At first, we decided to walk around Aker Brygge, one of the most expensive/hip/posh/whatever neighborhoods in Oslo, right by the fjord. But it was rather crowded, and Grace still needed a phone, so Micheline headed for an electronics store while the three of us (Grace, Kevin, and me) killed some time at the Nobel Peace Center’s bookstore (we’re waiting for a free admission day next weekend before we go to the actual museum). After we had seen most of the bookstore, we went to a stage in front of the piers and listened to a band (actually good) play their final number before two different rap duos (comically bad) performed a couple of songs. We couldn’t take any more, so we walked over to the pier where we planned to meet Micheline, and after she arrived (new cellphone in hand), we took a public transportation ferry to the peninsula of Bygdøy. Bygdøy  has several museums we plan to visit at some point, including the Viking Ship museum, and museums for the Fram and Kon-Tiki ships as well. (You’d think they like their maritime history here or something.) We toughed out some increasingly brisk wind while walking to find each of the museums, so Grace and I can find them again on our own if we so choose, and then took the ferry back to downtown

We ended the night with some grocery shopping for the weekend (most stores are close on Sundays, just like in Germany) and Micheline cooked dinner at her apartment before we made plans for today. Today’s schedule is (thankfully) lighter, as we are only meeting at 4:30 to discuss where to go with the research project, and then it’s Grace and my turn to make dinner. This could be very interesting so I’ll keep you posted. Aside from the meeting, all I know for now is that we will spend most of the week working at our office space at FAFO – the Institute for Labour and Social Research, which Micheline has established an affiliation over the last couple of years.

Well, this post turned out to be incredibly long, so I commend you for making it all the way through it. Next, I’m going to start working through photos from yesterday and uploading them to Facebook, but that might take a little while. Stay tuned.