2005-06 Outbound to Norway
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club
Host: Farsund Rotary Club, District 2290, Norway
August 23 Journal
Can it be? Am I really here? This, once a pipe dream, has now become a reality... Norway. I arrived here on August the 7th at Oslo airport. I spent my first week in a language camp just an hour outside of Oslo. I recalled my first few days here as a blur, a mix of languages spoken, strange new foods and lack of sleep. The majority of the exchange students coming into Norway were from the US, others came from various countries such as Brazil(3),Canada(3), Mexico(1), France(1), Taiwan(1) and Switzerland(1). All together we equaled about 19 students. During the language camp we spent several hours in an "intense" language class from about 9:00-4:30. It was hard some days to pay attention due to the lack of sleep, but we learned a lot of everyday vocabulary and some Norwegian culture (it has been very helpful!). The camp was beautiful, It was situated on the biggest lake I have ever seen, surround by green topped mountains. And everyday after class we would go for a swim, well... more like a dip due to the 15 degree C water temperature. The Norwegian teacher took us all to Oslo for a day. There we went to a few parks and museums. My favorite of these had to be the Vigelandsparken, the park has these beautiful hand carved, marble statues of people in different poses. It is suppose to symbolize how Norwegian people view life. To live it relaxed and free.
Everyone said their goodbyes at camp and then parted ways to our different host families. It was so surreal to think that it was kind of the last time you can have a real conversation with someone because there wasn't any language barrier. I met my host family at the Kristiansand city airport about two hours from my town, Farsund. I slept most of the drive back right until we hit the sign for Farsund kommune. I remember looking out on to the bay and at the little white cottages that surrounded and thinking "This is my home."
My host family (left) is truly wonderful. I have three host siblings: Tonje(22), Rickki(18) and Mads(15). Tonje spent a year in Michigan in 2001 and now goes to school in Denmark for Nursing. Rickki goes to school in Kristiansand during the week and is home for the weekends. Mads my little brother is the only one home during the week and he attends the local elementary school. I love my host mother, she is wonderful, every morning we sit and eat breakfast or førkost she starts the morning with an early Norwegian lesson in vocabulary, pointing out certain objects saying them in Norwegian and then I repeat her. My father is great - he helps me whenever I need it.
I had my birthday here in Farsund. I spent it running around getting my visa and residence documents done but, nonetheless it was the best birthday I have ever had. Later in the evening I went to my first Rotary meeting. I stood up and introduced myself (not in Norwegian, yet) and they presented my with a really pretty painting of one Farsund's beach. The meeting was focused on a woman who spent the last couple months in Thailand as a minister helping to clean up after the tsunami. Of course could only catch every couple words but it was still very interesting to hear her speak. We went back to the house and to my surprise my host mother made a blueberry pie, with wild blueberry she had picked from the mountains in the summer. My two other host families came and I met them, they all seemed very welcoming. There are no children living at home in my other two host families.
I started school here on the 16th of August. It is very different to say the least. I am in a class that would be considered a year younger then mine if I were in the states. People were kind of hard to get to know the first couple of days, they seemed a bit stand-offish but once they figure you are kind of outnumbered they begin to approach you and talk to you more. Once they find you can't speak very much Norwegian they are very eager to speak English which can get a bit frustrating if you want to learn the language. My school is very small; it has only about 260 students and class sizes are about 15-20 depending on the classes. I am taking Geography, English, Norwegian, Sociology 2 and 3, Psychology, Norwegian law and politics and Norwegian history. I have begun to understand some classes and some teachers when they speak, it may only be a few words but every little bit helps. It took a few days but I have found a group of girls that seem to welcome me despite my language deficiency. They are all great and help me even if I don't ask for it. I experienced my first bit of culture shock I guess you could say. One of the girls asked me "Is your school like the the one in American movies?" I looked her kind of puzzled for a moment and thought about it. Then she said "you know everyone drives nice, expensive cars to school, you have lockers in the hallways, everyone wants to be popular and you party all the time." It was so weird to hear other peoples perceptions of the American life style and that they really think that way.
There are times here where I feel very much an outsider. People can all communicate with each other and I feel no one will ever really know the real me in the beginning. Although everyone can speak English I hate when they do; I feel like I am being babied in a way. It only drives me more to learn the language faster.
I spent the last weekend at my grandmother's summer house at the beach. It was very nice. I helped Rickki baby-sit these little children who are friends of the family. I never knew what a good teacher a five year old can be when learning a language. It was wonderful learning experience.
On Sunday the whole family got together in my host mother's sister's house in the mountains in a place called Oppland for a "little family get together" - there were like 60 people there. I would walk through conversations that would go from Norwegian, to English, to Danish and a little German. I was so overwhelmed by the end of the night. My host mother's cousins from Florida came to visit as well. What is strange is that they live in Jacksonville too but, not only that they are practically my neighbors (2 miles to be exact). It was nice to have someone to talk to who kind of knew about your life at home.
My school celebrated its hundred year Jubilee today. There was a big assembly with a lot of guest speakers. It was interesting in the beginning but, when you don't really know what they're saying it's kind of hard to follow.
I am going to watch a folk music festival in my town this weekend with my host family. All the artists are going to be playing traditional Norwegian folk music and some will sing in their native dialects (every area in Norway has a specific dialect to each region). I am excited, the music is pretty unique.
I am not going to lie, these past two weeks have had their ups and downs, but it seems that whenever I feel the most homesick a little piece of home seems to pop up in the most random places and helps me to get over it. I am having the time of my life here and I can't wait to see what else this year will bring, the good and the bad.
Until next time!
September 22 Journal
It is difficult to believe I have been here a month already. It only feels like yesterday, wandering through the Oslo Airport, dazed and confused about my new surroundings and anxiously awaiting my fate. So much has happen in this past month.
I ended August by attending a folk music festival my host father and some other local community members were holding. It was called Sailors Wake, it featured folk acts from all of northern Europe (Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, England, and Scotland). During the festival not only concerts were held but also, dancing courses and seminars on folk music as well. I took a dancing course with my host sister and her friend from Denmark who was in for the festival that weekend. The course focused on a specific type of traditional Norwegian dancing called the Hauling, which in my opinion looks like cross between a square dance and a waltz. It can be somewhat difficult to learn because the rhythm of the dance is off beat from the song. Once I had mastered the dance (hahaha) the instructor surprised me by asking if I would join him and dance at one of the school concerts. It wasn't that bad - in fact it was the first time in my life that I didn't feel nervous in front of a crowd; I felt comfortable, even if I was making a fool of myself. I loved the Festival - it was amazing!
Things began to kind of fall into place after the first few weeks. School became a lot easier and I began to understand most of my classes. Norwegian language is very unique in that in every area in Norway a different dialect is spoken. Even the town Lyngdal; which is twenty minutes away, speaks very differently then people from Farsund. I have begun to notice only very slight differences in dialects because now at least some Norwegian doesn't sound like complete gibberish to me. I took my first test in my 2sk class (sociology) and while I thought it was going to be completely incomprehensible, it actually didn't turn out so badly. I answered almost every question and most of it was accurate, granted I did get to use my book and a dictionary. I still felt like I accomplished something.
Since I end class at 9:45 on Thursdays I have started going to the local Barnhagen or Kindergarden for a few "lessons" in Norwegian. It's nice to be able to have a conversation in Norwegian, even if it is with a four year and the extent of the conversation consists of what games I like to play. The children range from ages 2-5 so they haven't started to learn English, so I am forced to speak in Norwegian. Even if my pronunciation is terrible and I am not sure how to form a sentence correctly all the time, they never laugh at you ... you just get this look of utter confusion. I start my Norwegian language course next Monday, it should go until Christmas.
Something that is becoming quite a problem though is the food. I LOVE IT! I spent my first days at my family's home afraid to eat anything because I wasn't sure what I was putting in my mouth. Everything is so good here, still though I am definitely not a fish in the morning kind of girl. NO herring or smoked salmon for me!! Something that I have learned is quite traditional in Norwegian households is a special kind of cheese called brun ost, or brown cheese, basically. I can only describe the taste as very sweet and creamy and once you start to chew, it sticks to the top of your mouth. I have tried it about 4 or 5 times just to please my host mother and make sure I am not missing out on something good, but still each time is more disgusting then the other!
I have picked up some exercise recently to help with the Rotary 15. I started horseback riding again and hopefully maybe I can try some handball or volleyball in the next couple weeks. I have attended two Rotary conferences in the past few weeks and both required traveling so it hasn't left me much time to be here in Farsund. The first was in a city called Mandal, about an hour and a half away. There are about 7 other exchanges in my district, so it was nice to see everybody from language camp. We had to introduce ourselves in Norwegian and perform our national anthems. They held the conference at a place about 20 minutes from Mandal called Lindesnes; the most southern point in Norway. It was so beautiful - rocks, cliffs and OCEAN everywhere you turn.
I just came back from a conference in Haughsund, about a 6 hour trip. It was a national conference so all the exchanges from Norway came for the weekend. We also got to meet the Aussies; who had been here since January. We again all had to introduce ourselves in Norwegian and perform some sort of entertainment as well. On Saturday afternoon we took a tour of Haughsund and the surrounding area. It is Norway's oldest area. First we went to the Viking museum and took a guided tour of Norwegian Mythology and the history pertaining to it. Then we walked to a church which is rumored to be one of the oldest in Norway. There is a myth about the specific church and a pillar which stands adjacent to it. Old Mythology reads that over time the pillar will begin to sink and fall into the church and once the pillar touches the church, judgment day has arrived and the world has come to an end. Our last stop was a place where all of Norway's 12 kingdoms were united 1200 years ago. There is one big pillar which stands in the middle and each smaller pillar surrounding it represents each individual kingdom.
I have begun to feel more and more at home in my little town. I can't walk down the street or go into a shop without hearing a "Hei, hei" or "Heia." I have learned to appreciate its quiet charm and cozy dwellings. As each day passes, my host family's house feels more like a home. I have loved my every second here in Norway - it has truly been the best month of my life! I want to thank Rotary, I am so grateful, you have given me the greatest gift possible!
October 17 Journal
Fall is here in Norway... The once green-topped mountains have taken new colors of yellow and bright red... The temperatures dip down at night, and the once long summer days began to draw shorter... Time to break out the long wool scarves and heavy jackets... WAIT, no, I had those out ever since my arrival in the Norwegian summer, haha.
Well, where do I start - I finished my Høst ferrie or fall break about two weeks ago. I spent some of it visiting another exchange student Vanessa from Canada in Kristiansand, I actually ended up stay with Ricki and her family, a girl who was an inbound in our district last year. Turns out her family is Vanessa's second host family, what a small world. I think that's what I like most about this program, I have come to learn we are not all as different and foreign as we are perceived to be; in some way or another we are all connected to each other. It's things such as this which begin to hit me at random times, the tears come quite frequently, but only tears of overwhelming joy and happiness, and disbelieve that I am actually living my dream. It can no longer be called a dream, IT'S REAL AND IT'S HAPPENING; I AM LIVING IT!
Rotary always tells you those first few months are your most trying... I am going to be honest and say, boy they were not lying. In the first few months you have an identity crisis I guess you could call it, you're not sure who you are; Am I Norwegian or American?; Should I speak Norwegian even if I am not sure of what exactly I am saying or if it is even in correct grammar?; What about friends? Will they represent me or have similar personalities? All these questions seemed to surface, almost weekly for the first two months of being here. I think I have begun to level a bit though. I feel more stable in my surroundings and in my language, I am comfortable with my classmates, and making friends has become much easier.
I spent this last weekend at a family cabin in the mountains about twenty minutes from Farsund. My host mother's family was in from Denmark for their fall break. I met my host mother's cousins and their children, her cousins are also hosting two Rotary exchange students in Denmark. Larissa arrived in July from Alaska, and one Australian, Amy, had been in Denmark since January.
The family all took a trip up to climb one of the mountains on Sunday.. that was an experience... why is it that Norwegians are so active shall I say... each and every time I do anything involving walking or biking outdoors, I end up being very last in the line, about a half a mile behind - haha, at times I just want to scream, "I am not Norwegian, wait for me!!!"
The area in which the cabin and the mountain are located is called Brusland, and every time the family takes the two hour hike, they record in a little booklet which sits a small pile of rocks, on a peak. Everyone signs their names and the date, and they describe the trip up. It was so beautiful atop the mountain, you could see nothing but mountain tops if you look to the north, and nothing but ocean to the south.
I started my language course last Wednesday, good thing is I can catch on to vocabulary in school, I just need to learn the proper grammar usage.
Well... that is it for this month so far, taking one day at a time and enjoying each and every little moment. I will write again later and put some pictures up along with it. I came across this quote and I thought it explained perfectly, about what I thought of the beginning of my exchange year.
"Will you look back on life and say, "I wish I had," or "I'm glad I did?" - Zig Ziglar
One more thing- I want to say a big thank to Nina and Ricki; for opening their home to me and letting me stay there, I know she reads these journals! :-) And I can't say this enough, THANK YOU to everyone who has helped me get here! Love you all!
December 12 Journal
Entering the fifth month of my exchange and all I can't say is WOW! I spent the better part of November living out of a suitcase because I was traveling almost every week. First to Denmark with my first host family to visit my host sister in Viborg and relatives in Randers then a Rotary weekend in southern Norway and then to Trondheim with my second host mother for 7 days to visit my host sister and brother (both attending the university). After this month all I can say is I am so glad to be "home." Each and every one of these trips was unique and amazing. Seeing different extremes of Norway and seeing a new country. But as I said there is nothing like the feeling of "home" and yes that is what my host family's house has become, my safety zone...my comfort bubble.
Remembering the first moment when I walked into my new room and thinking, it's so bare and empty, this is not my room...I am never going to be comfortable here, no pictures or books or not even a place to play music. But in the last few months it is now my new found haven. School Books, papers and Norwegian fashion magazines line the shelves and my clothing lays in between every free space of wood flooring. My birthday present from my Rotary club, a picture of one of Farsund's beautiful beach scenes hangs near my window. And random objects which I have inquired over these five months fill every inch of table space. To say the least I have hit my comfort zone here and it pains me to think of packing it all into three tiny little suitcases, to claim a new space in a house to call my own.
I will be changing to my second host family after Christmas; my host Rotary club thought it best if I was with some sort of familiarity for the holidays and I agree, it will be nice to feel at home during, even though I am not really. My second host family is wonderful though, I spend time with them on a regular basis but that also might be because all three of my host mothers are good friends and also that all three of my families live with 500 feet of one another. But all three are equally wonderful in different ways and I am so happy to have had such good luck thus far.
So last Friday I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for some exchange students and some friends from class. Yes that's right I cooked a turkey! Quite proud of myself and managed to read recipes in Norwegian. The dinner went really well and the food tasted pretty good. Although I ate turkey pretty much all weekend and I think there is still a bit left in the chilling room down stairs. A little strange having my exchange friends there and girls from school, conversation lacked greatly but, we acknowledged the fact and laughed about it through dinner.
The truth is now, all I feel is comfort in all most every aspect of my new found life. School has become a joy now, instead of a chore. It helps now that I understand classroom material and am not embarrassed to speak Norwegian aloud. My classmates are wonderful, I feel part of the class and am included in all matters. They look out for me and I am a source of entertainment for them.
It's taken a while but I have found a great group of friends and am meeting new people daily. My Norwegian has been improving on a steady basis, I no longer speak English at home and for the most part no longer at school either. Telling stories is still a challenge but a good kind. I never usually finish my stories because I find that I start laughing at my story-telling abilities in Norwegian but nonetheless, it is nice to feel as though I fit in, well sort of.
But to say now I no longer have that feeling as though I am balancing on a weighing scale. Like I used to feel as though every little thing that went wrong or right during the day would affect my mood. Now I find I have more days where waking up in a good mood is much easier and staying that way is not as difficult as it use to be.
Each day things become increasingly better, even if it's maybe something little...it adds up to the bigger picture in the end. I have no particular stories this month to share but I would like to say that I am truly happy and content for now. If you are reading this and have applied for the program TRUST ME when I say, YOU WILL NEVER REGRET IT, IT HAS TRULY BEEN A GREAT RIDE!
God JUl !
January 13 Journal
Well my beautiful Christmas holiday had come to an end and with that my stay with my first host family did as well. My holiday here was one of joy and happiness despite Rotary mention of homesickness. My last week of school before break was to say the least a joke. We started our exams in late November making the work load a lot...well less then last two weeks before break, so for the last three days of school, they held different events and programs to keep us occupied.
My winter break was certainly a welcomed one...all three of my host siblings came home, so if felt like we were all a family. Let me tell you Norway really loves their Christmas holiday....there are some many unique and special traditions in preparing. Christmas is celebrated more so on Christmas eve rather than the first Christmas day. So Jul aften, as it is called, was spent at my host family's house with my host mother's parents, my host father's mother and my host mother's brother-in-law and his daughter. It was a really nice dinner together... at one time I felt like an outsider in the family...when I first came...not having many experiences to speak of or being able to make jokes with my family members but now I WAS FAMILY. Afterwards came yet another Norwegian tradition...Ris grøtt...it's a special dessert like rice pudding with usually some sort of berry topping. My absolute favorite food here. So it goes that you place an almond in one of the bowls and dish it out to everyone... whoever ends up with the almond in theirs gets a prize of a marzipan big...I wasn't lucky enough...instead my host sister received it. Afterward we headed into the living room for some good old gift giving. We embarked on this task around 5:30 in the afternoon and finished about 11:00. Every gift was opened one by one to ensure the same amount of pride and attention was given. My gifts were truly wonderful in that each one represents something special or important here in Norway. I hadn't expected much this year...or had I wanted much...but somehow my host mother figured out what I needed and got it for me...just like a true mother eh? Two of my most favorite gifts though, came from both my grandmothers...two troll dolls (which are important Norwegian tradition) They're so cute!
Finally, it was almost 12:00 and time for some more eating...yes! Coffee, fruit, and yummy Christmas cookies. We all sat around and ate until we could no longer keep our eyes open. This day was probably my most memorable here...I was surrounded by family and good conversation and realizing for the first time that things are getting easier and that my time here is so short...And how just when things seem to finally be settling, your exchange year is half over...I know I know...stop talking about how much time you're losing, I think I have mentioned it in almost every journal. But, in reality it's true...time runs away from you.
My winter break was very relaxing...Snow finally came after Christmas, needless to say my dream of a "white Christmas" was crushed. But when it finally came it was worth the wait. The first morning I woke up and walked into the living room and ran over to the window to stare in amazement as white little flurries fell one on top of the other. My host sister looked at me with amusement and laughed. I probably sat at the window for almost 10 minutes in shock.
Ahh and Yes....ice skating. All my memories as a child skating on the lake at my grandparents house all came back to me. How much I enjoy this afternoon...and no, no falls...yes! The Florida girl did not fall on the ICE. I spent the first 10 minutes adjusting myself to the new surface and making sure that every move I made was executed with the same amount of safety and precision as the last. But after that...I spent an hour just goofing off with my host sister and pretending to be a pro...what a joke.
New Years was fun. I spent it with some friends from school at a party. We walked to town around 11:30 and rung in the New Year by watching all the fireworks fill the skies as everyone in my class congratulated one another and gave endless hugs and kisses. Didn't matter if you were even friends...or even knew one another...everyone was cordial and happy to give greetings for the new year.
As my break came to end, both my host sisters traveled back to their own schools and my last week with my first host family had finally come. I was sad to leave my host family...crying as I hugged my host mother goodbye...but like she said, it isn't goodbye...so that made it easier. I look at changing families as a new start to my exchange, the end of my beginning if you will...
Looking back on those first five months and realizing all the things I have experienced and accomplishments which I have done, brings a smile to my face and excitement for the next 6 months to come.
My new host family is great...I am the only child living at home, but I find it much easy to talk with them.
I began to swim every Wednesday and supposedly started Volleyball on Thursday nights. So...doing all I can to keep busy and now even attempting my homework; at least now I understand it.
Three weeks I am going on a SKI trip in which Rotary is host for all the exchange students in Norway. The Australians are coming this month making us a total of almost 40. So...skiing should be quite interesting for me.
Filling my next coming months with plans and activities...trying to keep myself on track...and not thinking ahead to the future any longer, wastes my all too precious time in the present.
That's all for now...
Love from Norway...
March 23 Journal
Heia alle sammen!
It's March, can it really be half over? It really just started. OK these past two months have been hectic, and I started journals but never fully completed them so I might have written some of this a while ago.
Winter Camp...Rotary club of Nesbyen, for something like the 5 years invites all the exchange students in Norway for a week full of skiing, snow boarding and sledging. All 31 one of us including the new Australians attended. We stayed in a beautiful area that had a cabin rental facility...Girls had 3 cabins to split among them and the boys two. Cozy little cabins they were... especially in the morning... six girls... one bathroom... a bit of a rat race to claim the first shower. Any who... the first day, our director divided us into two groups... the ones of experience in the area of skiing and well, my group. SO after gathering our cross country skis and other equipment...we headed out to the meeting area for a quick five minute lesson and then it's on our own. This is probably the part in which the Aussies and I bonded, being that I was really the only American who had never tried any form of skiing. Everyday I enjoyed without a doubt. Cross country skiing became my favorite for the week. If we didn't head to the Alpine Center, for some down hill skiing, we were taking out as a group for a beautiful long trip in the mountains. Each day we increased in distance and despite my shock the first day I welcomed it and enjoyed the good exercise. The last day everyone came together again for a last cross country trip - we skied a total of 2 Norwegian miles, almost 20 kilometers. It took about 4 hours. Skiing is probably one of my favorite sports now, even though it might be a little difficult to find in Florida.
The beginning of March was winter break. Meaning yes, more skiing. So my host parents took me and another one of the exchange students James (Australia) skiing for the weekend at a ski resort about two hours from Farsund. James and I downhill skied for the entirety of the trip while my host parents took long cross country trips each day. After the trip James and I went to visit Vanessa in Kristiansand. We spent a few days there, showing James around the city and catching up with each other. The rest of my break was with my first host family, attending family gathering and activities. Felt strange almost as if I had come home.
Last weekend Rotary held another gathering for all the exchange students and invited us to Oslo to tour the city and attend the international ski jumping contest on Sunday at Holmenkollen ski park. It was amazing, Sunday we were given a tour of the ski museum and a brief history talk about how skiing has evolved in Norway over decades. The Holmekollen ski competition is known as Norway's second national day, because skiing is such a big part of this country's history. Norwegians love their skiing. The competition began at about 2:00 in the afternoon, we sat right in the snow for 2 hours drinking hot chocolate and cheering on Norway, but sadly Poland came out with the victory. Ski jumping is really quite boring to watch on TV, but actually being there, the sound of the skiers tearing down the jump with incredible speed, and people all sitting down together in the snow wrapped in layers of wool, eating tons of chocolate and pastries and complete strangers speaking among each other as if they were all old friends. It was so pleasant, even though by the end I had lost most of the feeling in my toes.
I been traveling quite a bit since January, and started to attend a Rotary meeting at least once a month to speak a little and give them updates on certain activities I've taking part in.
My next few weeks:
31 March: Move till final host family
3 April: Mom comes to visit
11-18 April: Easter Break
20-5 May: Euro Tour
There is so much I've left out, but it's hard to separate everything and try to compile into coherent English. That's all for now... Enjoying my next and final months in Norway. Still so strange to fathom... knowing that in such a short time my stay and exchange will draw to an end.
The first day of Spring was a few days ago, yet the snow began to fall again today.
That's it for this month.
kos og klemmer,
May 14 Journal
So it's time for another long overdue journal. My 9 month anniversary was Saturday, which was a complete shock when I found out I have exactly 5 weeks left here in Norway. My life has completely flown by in these past couple months. I moved in with my last host family at the end of March, I find it absolutely comfortable in every regard. They are a wonderful older couple with no children living at home currently. In March snow still scatters the ground in some places and the temperatures were still low at night, meaning the small space heater in my room has remained on almost my entire year in Norway. My mom came to visit in the beginning of April for a week. It was a really nice visit, she got to see Oslo, Kristiansand and Farsund. She met my families, some of the other exchange students and friends. I felt proud; in certain conversations with my host families to be able to translate English and Norwegian when needed. It was a chance for my mom to see my life, all the aspects of everyday... my school, "hometown", the culture, language and the country. My mom left right before Easter break, giving me another free week from school. Just spent my time relaxing, I visited Vanessa in Kristiansand for a few days and came back to Farsund for Easter. And finally, came my Europe tour. We left the 20th of April to Berlin, Germany and from there went on our crazy two week adventure. There were 32 of us from Norway and we were joined by three exchange students from Iceland. So my Europe tour in a nutshell:
Germany: Berlin, Dresden
Czech Republic: Prague
Austria: Vienna, Salzburg
France: Lyon, Paris
Without a doubt my two most favorite cities were Prague and Salzburg.
On our first day in Berlin, we were accompanied by a tour guide who was in fact an American, who had lived in Berlin for 35 years. First we went to Olympic Stadium, soon to be World Cup Soccer Stadium, then we spent much of our time driving around the city on the tour bus because there was so much to see that we had to cram it all in one tour. Berlin is unique in that, much of the city is in a constant state of restoration or reconstruction, it's estimated that it won't be fully finished before 2050. We drove along the "embassy road" and were able to find all of our national embassies, including the Scandinavian branch. We also stopped at Checkpoint Charlie, which was interesting, they still have some sort of guard stand set up to symbolize that of one used during the war.
Then day three we stopped in Dresden, which was a beautiful City, we saw the old churches; some of which still burned from the WWII bombings. And we saw the opera houses, gardens and got to walk the city streets. Then after what seemed like an eternity on the bus we finally we came to Prague. We had a tour of the city highlighting all of the important attractions Charles Bridge, the 5-Star man (The statue of John of Nepomuk.), St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Astronomical Clock, and then given the rest of the day free to do as we liked. This city was absolutely one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The architecture is amazing, and you can see the influences left from the prussic era.
Then we set off for Austria...it was a little disappointing being that Austria was done in two days with two different cities and didn't give us much time to see anything but I did really enjoy this country. First we were in Vienna for the morning and then made our drive to Salzburg in the afternoon, allowing us enough time to attend the Sound of Music dinner show which was pretty entertaining. To me Salzburg was the most beautiful because despite the fact that it is touristy it wasn't overly so, it still held it's charm and city feel. After dinner we were giving time to just walk around the city and explore a little. We all just bummed around the city, got lost a little and finally ended up at a corner cafe. It was a nice relaxing city at night, people out on street corner cafes, conversing in several languages, people coming and going to various evening events, we even met students from the University who were studying in Salzburg on an exchange program.
Our next stop was Italy. We stayed in a town about 20km outside of Venice, right on the ocean. Upon our arrival at our hotel we were welcomed by a group of Italy boys on a class trip, shouting and whistling, seeing this our director turns to us and says "Thank God, you girls can't speak Italian!" with a shocking look on his face, we all burst out laughing which creating a somewhat awkward moment but really funny. Not that Venice was absolutely terrible just that time wise it wasn't worth it. The city has it's interesting points, but all in all it seems very built up and not even a city at all, in a way I felt almost as if I were in a Disney World park exhibition, like Epcot almost... a backdrop or a movie set in a way. The canals were really interesting though and how the city is built.
After Italy we set out from Lyon then to Paris...we made a stop at the castle of Versailles (Château de Versailles) , located in the Commune of Versailles, which is a suburb of Paris. Our first day in Paris we all took the metro to the Eiffel Tower, which took a huge part of the day and then afterward we were given free time again. So we headed to the Louvre, I really enjoyed just wandering around and getting lost in every exhibition, just when you thought you saw some of the most beautiful works of art in one room, you stumble into another room filled with even more beautiful pieces. The next day we went to Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, then later that night we went out to the Eiffel Tower again and sat on the grass and watched a sort of light show...it was really beautiful. To our finally stop in London. I loved London. There was so much diversity, and history in this city. The first day we went by bus and saw such attractions as House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Regent Street, Tower Bridge and other sights. Then given free time again until dinner. After dinner we were given the chance to attend a musical, The Lion King, which was really entertaining. Our last day, a couple of us decided to just spend the day in Hyde park, which is now one of my top favorite places. We sat around in the grass talking, sun bathing, playing soccer and Frisbee. It was a nice day together, we reminisced about old times and talked about our future plans. It really all kind of hit us, our 9 months has gone by so quickly, and in about 3 weeks some of us begin to head home from Norway. Goodbyes were really tough, looking at each other in the eye making promises of future meet ups but there's that little reality in the back of your head knowing that it will never be this good again, you will never share the same circumstances like this again. Returning home was really difficult, in ways I felt like it was all over, my year. But I realized No, I still have got five weeks and I attend to make it wonderful.
I was excited to go back to school and see everyone again. But found out that exams had begun making my school week a little jumpy, only having to go to school three days last week and supposedly it will be like that until I leave. Yesterday, I went out with a group of friends on their boat and we met up with other people from school on an Island in the bay of Farsund. We grilled some food, made a big fire, sat around and talked for hours. The days are so beautiful now, the daylight lasts until about 11:30pm and although a little cold, it's green and the whole atmosphere of the town has changed; it's bloomed for the summer time.
Next Wednesday is Grunnlovdag, which is their national day. Everyone dresses in national costume, bunard and goes down to town for the big parade and various parties throughout the day. My first host mother asked if I wanted to wear one of their bunards so I can match everyone else, I'm pretty excited about that.
As for now...I know my time is limited. I want to thank Rotary again for this...This year has been completely mind blowing and you have given me something I can never repay. I am so grateful to each and everyone one of you who help to make this program work, you have done a WONDERFUL job!
All my love from Norway...