A taste of Norway
At the Oslo International Airport on the way home, I searched for a spot to have breakfast. One restaurant was serving what I consider to be dinner fish - at 7 a.m.!
Pizza Hut seemed the safest bet.
As my eyes combed the menu, I noticed that they had a 'Jamaican Pizza'. The list of ingredients included corn and paprika.
Hmmm ... paprika. I'm not sure the average Jamaican is even familiar with this spice, let alone served on a pizza identified as 'Jamaican'.
The cuisine of Norway isn't something I knew much about before I went there. I knew that seafood - as in most coastal regions - was popular.
I knew that reindeer were eaten. I wasn't dying to eat that, but I was willing to give it a try.
Within half an hour of my arrival at the Thon Opera Hotel, I made friends, and we set out for exploration and dinner.
I wanted to try Max Hamburgers, a Swedish restaurant chain with franchises in Norway. It was right below the Jaipur Indian Restaurant at the Karl Johans Gate. My American friends said it would be sacrilege to eat a hamburger outside of the USA.
We settled on the Mona Lisa Restaurant a few feet away.
"Do you have any reindeer?" I asked the server as she seated us. "No, but they have it upstairs," she replied.
I ordered a cafe au lait. Expecting it to be served in a mug, I was surprised to see the server show up with a glass tumbler.
"Isn't it served hot?" I asked her before I felt it and realised it was hot.
On the way back, we stopped at a small gift shop.
On the steps outside were perched two life-size troll statues. We had seen a much bigger one on the walk to eat and decided to stop to have a look.
Inside were dozens of miniature trolls in various poses; key rings with trolls; and cards with pictures of trolls. I asked the shopkeeper what their significance was.
She said the troll is part of Norwegian folklore and that parents tell children stories about trolls at bedtime to scare them into staying indoors when it gets dark. I wonder if some of her intended meaning was lost in translation.
The next day, I had a closer look at the location of my hotel, which was in front of a harbour, across from the Oslo Opera House.
The opera house was built into the harbour and set in the water was a glass installation reminiscent of the one at the Louvre in Paris and under just as much water as Paris itself was that week.
The only boat docked was a large sailing biblical museum known as Noah's Ark, which was built to scale.
In another port not far away were more boats. This was close to the Nobel Arts Prize Centre, where the awards are handed out annually.
I still hoped to have some reindeer, and as luck would have it, that afternoon, as I walked close to my hotel, I spotted a sidewalk vendor under a sign indicating 'A Taste of Norway'.
In his stall was a variety of packaged sausages as well as some for sampling. I asked him what they were.
"Moose, reindeer, and red wine sausage," he said. Talk about hitting the international taste-bud trifecta!
DIDN'T TASTE STRANGE
I tried all three. They didn't taste strange, though I won't say that go-to for everything that isn't chicken - "It tastes like chicken."
The moose was salty as if it had been smoked. The vendor assured me it hadn't been. The reindeer was fairly bland. The tastiest? The red wine sausage. I had a couple more of those.
Now, to me, and I daresay to anyone living below latitude 30?N, the most intriguing thing about Norway is the length of the days in summertime.
As a child ,I read about the Land of the Midnight Sun and was always curious to experience it. Little did I know it was the kind of thing that could drive you literally to the brink of madness.
On the first of my three nights I went to bed around 11 p.m. I tossed and turned, but no sleep would come. It didn't help that it was still daylight outside. I turned the television on. They had programmes in English with Norwegian subtitles. I caught the ending of a rerun of a six-year-old episode of Grey's Anatomy.
Then it was on to Seinfeld. As half hour after half hour passed, I wondered when sleep would come. At around 1 a.m., it finally got dark. At 3 a.m., I watched the sun rise again. Below my hotel, which was next door to the train station, they had started cleaning and the constant hum was no help.
I finally fell asleep around 5 a.m. By then, it was broad daylight. I pulled the curtains as closely as I could. I was up again before 8:30 a.m. as the city also sprang to life.
The following night was no better. As I lay in bed, hour after hour slipped by. My brain said sleep, but my eyes were dry and brittle as they refused to close. I finally slipped off in the early morning, but again, it was short. The third night, I got no sleep at all. It got to the point where I thought I might never sleep again.
I finally did - three days later.