Things You Didn’t Know About Me

Normally, I am a huge advocate of not getting too personal on your blog. No one cares about the crap food you ate on the plane, the fact that the dude next to you kept touching your knee on the flight, or why you now regret traveling with your mom. However, 500+ followers and 137 posts later, I feel that it is time for you to hear a little bit more about the person who is always on the Life Aboard the Traveling Circus.

1. The first foreign country I visited was Norway, which I considered the Sears of the mall of Europe. When I was 17, my poor father toted my sister and I off to Norway to meet our family members in Bergen and get some culture in our blood. At first, we didn’t see it as such – it was effing cold in the pit of July, there was way too much hiking to be done, and we were sleeping in someone’s converted library. However, somewhere between the constant daylight and centuries-old city, the whole thing became kind of cool and Norway became our underdog of Europe instead of the store in the mall people never really want to go to unless they need a dishwasher. This trip spurred my need to see more; to get out of what was ordinary.


Voss, Norway

2. My second trip to Europe was a three-week backpacking tour of Europe… armed with one other 17-year-old. I literally have no idea why my parents let me do this – probably because they don’t like me that much. Most people end up visiting our neighbors across the pond via school trip with chaperons and respected adults – I went with my high school friend armed with a backpack from my grandmother and some clothes I knew I wouldn’t miss. This can be considered jumping in with both feet – I had never even gone camping before. Nevertheless, it was my first real taste of venturing outside my comfort zone and into London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia.


Loch Lomond, Scotland

3. I almost didn’t study abroad because I liked a boy. And then I signed up one day because I was feeling particularly adventurous. From my first year of college, I always thought about studying abroad, but it seemed like a far-off pipe dream with all the paperwork and planning that had to go into it – not easy considering my constantly changing majors and minors and over-analyzing nature (If this is you, go anyway. It’s gonna be OK). When I was getting ready to finally do it – sign up to go to London, England for the semester – something happened where I thought that the boy I liked throughout college was finally going to give me a chance (he didn’t). I hesitated and decided to give it another year to see what happened. The next year, I took a chance and moved in with my friend, which turned out awesome, and I figured why not give this one a go too? and that day, I put my name on the Florence, Italy list. I chose Florence based on a materialistic pro/con list my roommate and I made… that day.

4. I’ve never really lived anywhere for more than a short amount of time. Until I was in fifth grade, I had never been in the same school system for more than two years, and even after this, we continued to move around for various ridiculous reasons. Even if we weren’t getting ready for yet another move, I was rarely home; instead, I was constantly staying over friends’ houses and trying to create a home for myself and get on the ins with their families so I would always be welcome. I always spent a lot of time in cars… which is probably why I feel uncomfortable being in the same place for a long period of time now.

5. I crave the dirtiness of travel. I hate to admit it, and you probably wouldn’t guess it from following this blog, but I’m the most straitlaced and organized person you’ll ever meet. I am frequently picked on for my incessant list-making and perfectionism – I battle deep anxiety if everything isn’t in its place. However, this is why I am pulled towards travel – it is the precise opposite. I like not knowing, even if just for a bit, if I will be showering that day, what time I’m gonna crash into bed, where I will crash into bed, and even if my shoes will make it to see tomorrow.

What would people never guess about you?


The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

The Champions of the Polar Vortex

For the last few weeks, the already unpleasant East Coast has been experiencing a whole new animal of gelidity – the starkly named Polar Vortex. Each day, we bundle up with our thickest jackets and our heaviest mittens and stuff our faces inside our woolen scarves for the thirty-second walk to the car. We are now shoveling out our cars on a daily basis; illy equipped from our usually cushy lives on the couch.

However, to other remote parts of this icy, cruel world, thirty degrees is the height of summer and warrants a walk in the park (or alongside the frozen pond). And I am here to remind you that no, you do not live in Antartica, but this is just a small, cold phrase of an unusually stark winter (and the end of the world). So, check out the darkest, coldest, and remote regions of the world to make you feel a little better that your job still won’t call in a damn snow day.

1. Verkhoyansk, Russia somehow maintains its roughly 1500 residents in the average-temperatured -50 degrees Fahrenheit. Not surprisingly, it was also the home of political exiles between the 1850s and early 1900s. In 1892, residents recorded a record -90 degrees Fahrenheit which still holds its first-place title today.


2. Oymyakon, Russia is yet another Russian home of about 600 very cold people, who’s kids still go to school when the thermometer hits -52 degrees Fahrenheit. Sadly enough, the village is named after a local hot spring, which can be reached by locals when cracking through the ice. Believe it or not, a tourism board also sits on duty, which promotes their town as an extreme destination for adventurous travelers.


3. Hell, Norway is fittingly named as it is frozen over for about a third of each year; from December through March.  Hell maintains its notoriety not only for its sub-artic average temperatures, but also for its clever name and attraction to tourists bored of the beach.


4. Barrow, Alaska doesn’t break freezing until June and even then, it stays barely at 40 degrees Fahrenheit before the sun sets in November and doesn’t reappear until the end of January. Probably for the best, it is only reachable by sea or air.


5. Antartica recently broke its own 30 year record by hitting -136 degrees Fahrenheit, which is colder than dry ice. The only beings that even exist there are organisms such as algae, bacteria, penguins, mites, and seals. There are no permanent human residents and even less survival resources. Feel better yet?


A Day in the Mountains of Norway

The next morning, Trygve, Turid, Kristin, Sissel, and I drive to their beloved cabin in the “mountains” (when to me, this entire country is a mountain) which is somewhere in the wilderness between Bergen and Voss. I’m a little confused when I see the cabin across a river, but when we park on the other side, Turid explains to me that to get to the cabin we have to hop a guardrail, walk a little downhill and then cross a short bridge and some rocks to get there. Wearing my nicest jacket and a borrowed pair of Wellies, I actually laugh aloud when I think of a real estate agent in her heels 20 years back telling Turid and Trygve, “And here we have the romantic entranceway of… a river…”

Trygve, Sissel’s tall and quiet brother, is the stereotypical strong and silent type, only speaking when spoken to and taking on all his fatherly duties with a quiet confidence. He lights the wood stove as Turid, a teapot-looking woman with a permanent smile on her face puts some pastries on the table, called “shillings” (they look a lot like cinnamon rolls and only cost a shilling back in the day). Kristin gives us a little tour of the modest cabin, showing us how her parents have expanded the cabin over the last 20 years. She shows us all the bedrooms, in which Turid has handmade the quilts.

When Turid and Sissel go outside to sit on the deck and drink tea, Trygve, Kristin, and I go for a hike, which seems to be a favorite activity of this family. As Trygve marches forward, I chat with Kristin, who at first glance is stern and dignified and may intimidate me just because she is a teacher of English and German at a high school in Bergen. Her hair is usually pulled back and she speaks in a tight British accent, as she got her Masters in English in York, England. But within five minutes of talking to Kristin, she’ll tell you how she literally has an apartment stuffed with books she loves and how much she adores teaching, even if she’s living in a village in Thailand and waking up at 5:00 am everyday, as she did a few years ago when she taught English abroad.

In the first leg of the hike, we go through a gate and pass through an old farm, which wraps around one side of the lake that the cabin overlooks. A little hoard of sheep blocks our way, which someone has oddly locked on one part of the bridge, but they scatter as soon as we start to walk through. Going up the all-uphill first half of the hike reminds me a lot of Colorado with its rolling hills surrounded by mountaintops dotted with snow and ice. Waterfalls are all around us on the tops of some of the mountains. As pretty as it all is, it feels good to finally collapse in a heap by the wood stove before driving back to Bergen on the little wraparound roads.

That night, we walk next door to Trygve and Turid’s son, Andreas’, house, where he lives with his wife, Katrina, and their two blonde children, Sandra and Guru. We have a traditional Norwegian dinner of tacos and Spanish wine (well paired, as my teacher, Giancarlo, would say). I start to see how American/Norwegian/or anything else doesn’t really matter over a bottle of wine and well-deserved meal after a long day, because no matter what the continent, everyone can smile about the same things.

An Outing with the Fam

When you’re a stubby brunette with an obnoxious laugh, it’s easy to feel out of place in a sea of white-blonde heads on tall beanpoles in Bergen, Norway. Luckily for me, by some miraculous mix of fate, my grandmother was born in Norway and her brother, Trygve, and his family still live there, making for some interesting family vacations.

So while everyone else in my study abroad group danced on tables in Munich, Germany, for the first weekend of Oktoberfest, I got on a plane and headed to the underdog of Europe. I was happy to discover that the weekend I visited wad the first three days in weeks that it hadn’t rained. And let me tell you, rain is not what you want in a country where you wear jackets in July.

On Friday, when Trygve was at work, where he owns a printing press, and his wife, Turid, works for an environmental group, my grandmother, Sissel, and I took a bus into Bergen. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway to Oslo and is only a short ride a way from my family’s house about fifteen minutes outside of the city.

Bergen is not very reminiscent of a big bustling city like New York or Milan. Instead, water flows in and out of it into  fjords (like a large river), and the city itself is dotted with thatched roofed colored buildings in red, yellow, blue that are older than America. We got dropped off in the city center, which is right in the middle of the daily fish market next to the marina.

Vendors hassle us to buy crabs, shrimp, and fish with their eyes and scales intact. We try some reindeer, elk, and whale, which surprisingly all taste basically the same and remind me of salami, just a little thicker. My father back in New Jersey used to tell me that one of his favorite memories of his sole trip to Norway when he was ten-years-old for Trygve and Turid’s wedding was the bustling fish market and an old man with no thumb chopping fish next to his stand and yelling at little kids as they stared.

This all makes Bergen very storybook, especially when the sun is shining and the boats are coming in. Even though it’s a cool 40 degrees Fahrenheit today, quite colder than my home in Florence, the sun warms us up quickly and soon we are dropping layers behind bushes and buildings to pick up later.

Sissel and I take the cable car up to Mount Floyen, which seems to be a favorite spot for hikers and bikers, even though it’s like an eighty degree angle. At the top, we look over Bergen and soon trample through the forest to the wooden troll statues that are scattered amongst the trees, covered in moss and ivy. As I huff and puff on the trek back down Mount Floyen, my 76-year-old grandmother parades down in her Norwegian sweater like she was born here or something.

After having lived in Bergen for 20 years, Sissel didn’t see much else for herself and packed her bags to see her uncle in Brooklyn for what was supposed to be six months. At some kind of dance, she met my grandmother, Sal, a stout, loudmouthed Sicilian who ran around with a gang. Once she made him dump his other girlfriend, they married and had three boys, including my father, Anthony. Sissel has since forgotten most of her Norwegian (and many words have changed over time anyway), but she stays true to her wandering ways with at least three trips a year to places like Utah, Barcelona, and Alaska… basically anywhere she can get a ticket.

My grandmother and I shop a little in the shops of Bergen soon after, although I’m sad to see that the krone (pronounced chrone-a) is currently kicking my dollar’s ass. Norway has free healthcare and college tuition, but their taxes are through the roof with a whopping 25 percent sales tax.

That night, Trygve, Sissel, and I drive to my great-great aunt’s house, which is perched on a mountain a little more into the countryside. Like everyone else in Norway, she lives in a wooden house that overlooks a fjord. She’s well-dressed for an 88-year-old and especially lively as she nudges us inside and hands us little knitted slippers to wear on her wood floors before she serves coffee and apricot cake in a living room full of photos and flowers.

Back at home, Trygve, Turid, Sissel, Kristin (their daughter who lives in the apartment upstairs) and I sit around a table in the living room by the fire reading books and sipping tea. It’s literally the sanest family time I have ever been a part of (ours at home usually consists of someone screaming and/or throwing an object within the vicinity) and, thinking of it now, no one even turned a television on once.