środa, 7 października 2015

Number 13 completed, number 6 in progress.

I got back from Tokyo last Wednesday. [Fanfares please], I announce mission #13 completed! Boy, that trip was intense and I'm back home for longer for the first time since May. In the meantime people got married, people got kids, I got broken up with, some ugly building was built next to my lovely Castle Square, the flowers grew a few centimeters in our garden and a seal in the bathtube broke, which made some fantastic mould patterns emerge in the corner of my room. 

Sigh. It feels inadequate, everybody is in the middle of something, their daily businesses and I'm packing again, enjoying fresh vegetables (Japan, Y U no have fresh vegetables), shedding skin like an overgrown lizard (Shirahama beach was a bitch), and trying to keep my reverse jetlag alive (early to bed, early to rise!). Soon I'm off to Biarritz, to complete  mission #6. I asked people from Camino forum to give me recommendations for my packlist, and then I got million contradictory tips. Take rain pants. Don't take anything but bare neccessities. Take enamel cup, they don't have pots in some albergues. Don't take enamel cup, there are plenty of pots. Take camelback. Don't overhydrate.

Geez, how did all these medieval pilgrims make it without camelbacks, earplugs and rainpants!?

wtorek, 15 września 2015

On CS spirit and sleeping in strange places

Our Japanese trip seems to be like Hitchcock's movies: it starts with an earthquake which is followed by rising tension.

In Tokyo we spent great two days with our Polish CS host, Zachary, who turned out to be a perfect guide, when it comes to explaining some nuances of Japanese culture. Such as why people change seat on the subway when we sit next to them. On our second, and last day with Zachary, we went for one last beer and somehow we ended up in the middle of Shibuya district, a bit inebriated, with equally inebriated supercool Japanese people who have learned how to say "I love Poland" in Polish. (See, being drunk helps a lot when it comes to learning Polish). And then there was an earthquake. A small one. So small that we couldn't even feel it. 

This is who you randomly meet in Shibuya's street

After Tokyo we went to Kawagoe, where we tried to be adventurous, sleeping in a bush, but we were found by a very concerned and confused young man, who said with broken English, that it's very dangerous to sleep here (and then called his aunt, who said the same thing six more times with excellent English, for a change). We ended up in an internet cafe, which in Japan is an institution.


Kawagoe was also our first experience in hitchhiking. We have found a couple who was going 30 kms south, but they decided to go all the way to our destination city, Fujiyoshida, which was 80 kms further than they planned to go initially. We reached a small mountain town, Yamanakako, where we planned to find a campsite, perfectly present in Google Maps, and enjoy the view of Mt Fuji on the next morning. Instead, we ended up in some abandoned campsite facilities in the middle of a spooky, dark forest full of very noisy crows. Now I know why I never watch Japanese horror movies. Next morning, instead of a view of majestic Mt Fuji, we enjoyed a view of a majestic campsite janitor, who charged us 800\ each. 

Mt Fuji, being majestic for 30 mins before it got cloudy

We hitchhiked from Yamanakako to Nagoya and had some creepy-as-fuck experiences on the way, so when we met our CS host Paul, it was like coming to a safe haven. If there is such thing as CS spirit, it's surely embodied by people like Paul. He fed us, he let us wash our clothes and sleep as much as we wanted. He also took us for karaoke, where we discovered that we share a sentiment for Counting Crows and "Hey There Delilah". 

Now we are in the best ryokan ever in Kyoto. It's actually too good to be true. It has hairdryers, AC, kettle, shower that looks like a time machine, and we are still looking for a catch.

czwartek, 10 września 2015

Living in a drawer, surviving a tycoon and curry with cat hair

After way too long flight from Warsaw to Tokyo via Duesseldorf (including 4 hrs delay aka 250 € refund from Germanwings, yay), my sister and I have finally reached Tokyo. It looks like 5000 ¥ can give you a room in a size of a drawer, so Paulina and I got more intimate than ever in the last 21 years of being sisters. 

Notice the amazing view on the other building's wall.

The first thing she got at the reception desk was a leaflet "Easy Japanese for women", including useful phrases, such as "I don't want to go home tonight", or, for the least decisive ones "I like you/love you".

On the first day Paulina had a close encounter with the weird Japanese bathroom culture. It turns out that every toilet here is an effect of Japanese rocket science, has lots of buttons and functionalities, and if you press all the buttons without sitting on it, the bidet feature may send a high pressure water stream right into your face.

In the morning we went to a market near Senso-ji temple, where we met Jedrek, a Polish hardcore backpacker with a particular interest for free accomodation (staircases, people's couches, tent). He travels the world, spends peanuts and earns millions of Australian dollars on blowing huge soap bubbles for kids. We have spent the whole day getting lost and finding the way, mostly when the wall of rain was becoming a bit more see-trough (Forget I ever complained about weather in Bergen, that was before I actually experienced tycoon). Finally we ended up in a cat cafe, trying to give love to pretty resistant cats. 980¥ for rice with curry and cat hair.

They come to you only during the feeding time

sobota, 5 września 2015

8 Reasons why Bergen is #osom

I am heartbroken. Yesterday I got back from Bergen after almost 4 months of one of the best holidays ever, full of swimming in the fiord, climbing the mountains, partying like there is no tomorrow, trying to ignore seagulls' mating habits at 3 am, trying to ignore my flatmate's mating habits every weekend night, just behind our paper-thin walls. I'm trying not to be sad and be awesome instead, frantically packing stuff for Japan, but then I look at the stuffed moose in Norwegian sweater, I got as a goodbye gift from my boss, and I melt. Bergen, it's not you, it's me. We need some time apart, but we'll be back together soon, I promise. Can we still be friends? I think you are #osom, and that's why:

#1. Parades. Parades everywhere.
You see, I have a thing for uniforms and brass bands and parades, so whenever I see a miltary orchestra having a parade, I'm hyperventilating. Bergen happens to have an extraordinary amount of parades, like every sunny day (and sometimes on rainy days as well), there is Sjøforsvarets Musikkorps (Norwegian Royal Navy Music Corps) marching along the Fish Market. Add Buekorps, ancient, paramilitary youth defence organisation, with their drums, and occassionally a whole bunch of other parades and here you go: a Bergen parades' frenzy.

#2. Spoons in yoghurts
I know that it's an all-Norwegian idea, but still, there is a tiny foldable plastic spoon added to every yoghurt. Whoever got this idea, was a genius. In some miserable central European countries you have to carry your spoon with you.

#3. Sea AND mountains
I was able to go for a 6 hrs hike, and if the weather was good enough, I could cool down by jumping into the fiord, from a pier called Balastbryggen. And then try to get out of the water, climbing the ladder covered with small broken seashells. Whoever stepped on Lego doesn't even know half of the pain of stepping on broken seashells.

#4. Foghorns and seagulls
You are woken up by foghorns, you can't sleep because of the aforementioned seagulls. Bergen is all about sea, and for someone born 400 kms away from the seaside, it's magic. It is, and it always was, a window to the big, wide world. There are tall ships with weather beaten seamen, there is Royal Navy, there are traders from faraway countries. You can spend the whole afternoon sitting at the wharf and imagining what it used to be like in the time of Hansa. Probably there were less tourists and more bubonic plague. (At least we know, that Crusaders, who visited the city in 1191, were impressed: Stockfish, also known as dried cod, there is in such large quantities that it cannot be measured or counted. Ships and men come sailing in from all four corners of the earth.)

You may also notice, that someone has casually parked a big ass cruise ship in the end of your street. #justbergenthings

#5. You can get everywhere just walking
Bergen is tiny, especially if you live in Nordnes. It takes 20 minutes to get to Lone's commune in Mohlenpris, and 10 minutes to reach Elena's and Laura's place in Fjellet Nord. Torjus lives 5 minutes from our house in Hennebysmauet. This is the main accelerator for the local social life. It must be the only place, where when you invite people for a party on Facebook, 20 people confirm and 40 people come.

#6. You will never appreciate sun as much as Bergensers do.
With the annual precipation of 2250 mm Bergen beats even London (594 mm). No wonder that every time when the temperature rises above 20°C and there is a slight chance for sunny weather, Bergensers take their engangsgrills and occupy all possible green areas in the city. The whole city changes, people smile for no reason, you may even have a chance for a chat with a stranger, a truly heretic idea under the usual atmospheric conditions.

21,5 degrees! Whoa everybody! Grab your sunscreen!

#7. It doesn't seem to change much
Legendary Hennebysmauet:

Hennebysmauet A.D. 2015...  
...and 1914

#8. It's lovely
Someone took that extra effort to carve the window frame. Someone else takes care of the flowers. your landlord re-paints the house every year, your neighbor's window panes are in a colour corresponding with the house on the opposite side of the street.  It's neat, it's harmonous, it's tidy, it's pretty, it's pure kos.

czwartek, 6 sierpnia 2015

My social life is a wild beast

I've always been kinda outgoing and sociable, reasonably balancing it with some me-time and occassional tantrums over "nobody loves me, I'll die alone". However, in the past three months my social life became a wild beast. Seriously, I discovered that deep in my heart I'm 21 and I have regenerative abilities of a 5 years old. Working 11 hours and partying till dawn? No problem! 6 hours hike, followed by swimming in the Nordnes pool and a party afterwards? Bring it on! Sleep is for the weak! One of many perks of living in the house-where-everything-can-explode-any-time is that it's in Nordnes, and Nordnes is the center of the Universe, 10 mins away from literally everything. From the legendary Garage, from Nordnes Park, which is THE place to be when the temperature rises above 22°C, from every single one of our friends who is able to put his pants on and in 10 minutes be in Hennebysmauet to play Settlers of Catan on a rainy evening.

Last weekend Hanka and I decided to make a small party. Hanka lives in the ground floor and has a spacious kitchen and a living room that's big enough for a sofa, coffee table and a broken TV. We invited everyone (naively thinking that you gotta divide all Facebook "yes" into two and not to take "maybe" into account), and everyone came. Andrea The Sardinian came first and then the attendance got into the snowball mode. We had a strong representation from Lithuania, Germany, England, South Africa, Sardinia, Kurdistan, Italy, Hungary and Denmark. We ended up with 40 people on 36 square meters, cloud of pot smoke in the bathroom, and someone's father asking girls for a dance. High five Hanka, that was a party to remember. 

So, now it's less than a month to go, the clock is ticking and I'm already missing this place and these people. I know that this summer will never repeat itself in the same sociable configuration, which makes it so bitter-sweet. Bergen, I'm madly in love with you, I have no idea how will I survive the months to come without you. 

środa, 22 lipca 2015

Better bodies

Welcome to Norway, land of the fit, home of the healthy. Norwegians are totally crazy about, friluftslivet, which translates into doing things outdoor as often as possible, (and taking pride in it) and it includes sport, leisure, camping, barbecuing, hiking, skiing, literally everything. 2XU leggins and running shoes are like a national costume here, and it doesn't matter if you are actually running, or just buying toilet paper in your local supermarket, as long as you are wearing some NASA-approved flashy leggins (the latter suggests that you might have been running just a while ago). 

Because obviously, the body you already have is not good enough.

Being fair, I must say, that the vast majority of Norwegians does look fit and healthy, and they really run in their 2XUs. It happens that our stand at the Fish Market sells moose burgers and we can get them for free, which sometimes is the only way of not dying of starvation during a busy market day. Having this, and all these fit runners running back and forth along the Torget, makes one freeze over ones burger and re-think life, especially in terms of the recent dietary decisions. Akhem. 

Luckilly, Bergen has plenty of instruments of torture sport facilities, the most famous one being Stolzekleiven. Stolzekleiven is not really a sport facility per se. It's just 908 steep steps that will take you to the top of Sandviksfjellet. Four years ago they were renovated. By Nepali Sherpas, and may it give you some idea of what we are talking about here:

I hope you like steps, because this is what you're going to look at for the next 30 minutes.

An average creature born and raised on the plains of Central Europe (or just any non-Norwegian, who wasn't trained in friluftslivet since the early infancy) will reach the top in 30-40 painful, humiliating minutes, and on the way up will be taken over by old (Norwegian) ladies in flashy leggins, (Norwegian) pre-schoolers and small (Norwegian) lap dogs. Stolzekleiven is not merely a hike in the mountains. It's a competition, and if you climb and tell others about it, you will surely get asked how much it took to reach the top. Just for comparison: In the annual uphill run Stolzekleiven Opp in 2014, the winner in the cathegory of "Women 65-69 years old" was Liv Astrid Losnegård, with the score or 14 minutes and 48 seconds. Will you beat Liv Astrid? 

wtorek, 19 maja 2015

17. Mai!

On days like 17th May, I really really regret that we simply don't wear our national costumes for big occasions. Such as Constitution Day. 

If you think, that bunad is a relic of the past, you coulnd't be more wrong. Norwegians are fierce if it comes to making statements trough folk attire. The whole craziness started in 19. century. Don't get me wrong, in general the interest with folk culture started in 19. century, before that there was no such thing as national costume, mostly, because the nation, as we understand it now, is a fairly new concept (that's the cultural anthropologist in me speaking). But in Norway it was more than that. For the whole 19. century Norway under occupation - either Danish or Swedish, and therefore, under Swedish or Danish cultural influence. Gaining the independence in 1905 accelerated popularity of bunad and basically everything that's Norwegian, or, more precisely: non-Danish/Swedish (that's also how nynorsk was born - it was supposed to be pure Norwegian language, without any foreign accretions). Since then, Norwegians take their folk costumes deadly serious. 

Last 30 years of changes in Norwegian society in one picture.

Every girl and almost every guy owns a bunad, and there's a whole set of customs behind it. First of all, bunader are insanely expensive, they can cost up to 30 000 NOK (= roughly 4000 USD or 3500 EUR). On one hand it sounds like something that would require robbing a small bank, but on the other hand, national costume will be used in all kind od formal occasions, weddings, school ceremonies and national holidays, which means that they are saving on formal dresses. Bunader are not only the local patriotism statement, but also a status marker. Traditionally they are confirmation gifts. From some points of view, it's even a gender inequality issue:

"Boys receive money, girls receive bunad. Boys more often get money as their confirmation gift. As adults, men have 50% more savings than women"

If you are really in need, you can order a bunad from China or buy it in Sparkjop (a chain shop with cheap everything), but then it's not really right thing to do and Norwegian Institute for National Costume and Bunad wouldn't approve. I absolutely loved all the bunads around, but the most beautiful surprise we got, was this lady, proudly representing 5000 of Bergen's Poles:

sobota, 16 maja 2015

Hennebysmauet tribe

Our housemates are rather to be heard than seen, but you can track human presence in this place by dirty pans and constantly dissapearing small pot. There are nine living units in Hennebysmauet, one small studio and eight rooms, divided into three floors. Ground floor contains a studio, first and second have four rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom each. Legends say that there is also a microscopic attic with a small room, but I haven't been brave enough to check it. We are occupying a 11 sq. m room on the second floor, waiting for the ground floor tenants to move from the studio, making room for Hania. On the evening of arrival, I dropped my bags on the floor of our room and enthusiastically announced that it's high time to say hello to the neighbors. Little did I know. Apparently, rich social life isn't a thing in this place and cluttered kitchen, which is the only common space, doesn't even have a place to sit and have long conversations about life, death and everything in between. It's been six days since I arrived and I managed to figure out that:

- In our floor one room is occupied by Jason, who happens to be the most sociable of our housemates (also, he lent us his spare bed, thanks a million, Jason). Jason is half Thai - half Norwegian and is in the middle of his Russ right now. Basically, Russ is a three weeks long festival of soon-to-be graduates of high schools. They are expected to wear red overalls, party, drink like there is no tomorrow and, as a consequence, do stupid shit. Like, emmm... walking on all fours on Torgallmeningen. Or kidnapping three baby penguins and an unhatched egg from an aquarium in Ålesund. It also means that this is what you see when you live with a Russ-ian and open the door (but before this, you hear them, you hear them big time):

It's also worth mentioning, that Russ-ians can't take off their overalls, nor wash them during these three weeks. Which kinda doesn't make a difference in a house which is as dirty as ours. 

- The other room is occupied by Christian. The best way to lure him out of his room is to use a hairdryer. The hairdryer blows the fuses, the blown fuses cut off the router and the dead router makes Christian go out.

- The third room in our floor is taken by an invisible couple. They apparently live there, just behind the kitchen, but nobody has seen them. Hania says that she could smell marijuana next to their door. It's always better to smell marijuana than a rotting corpse.

In the top floor there is Sigurd, who is Norwegian, kinda gloomy but good looking, and Dimitros from Greece, whom I met only because I burned buckwheat and he rushed downstairs only to check if we're already on fire. 

Nobody knows who lives in the ground floor. Once, I spotted a guy in a blue jacket. Nobody knows who he is and what he does. Another great mystery of Hennebysmauet, along whith "who took the small pot" and "use of which sockets will blow the fuses".

piątek, 15 maja 2015


From now on, please, send your money checks and love letters to Hennebysmauet. 

Our place is in the upper part. I expect to have buttcheeks of steel in September.

This house is just bizzare. "You get what you pay for" should be written over the main door. With golden letters. It's a part of a muddle of narrow wooden houses and even narrower cobbled streets in Nordnes peninsula, one of the oldest districts in the city. Random windows just at the arm's reach from your bathroom window, your own window with a view of someone else's roof, a kitchen with a view on some mysterious alley, which doesn't exist in any of the maps you've seen, these are the joys of living in Hennebysmauet. 

After the first morning I realized that being naked in our bathroom is not a good idea.

The landlord doesn't seem to care much about what is happening in the house and house itself seems to hold together mostly by the strength of the dirt sticking it together. That's another thing - forget the pharmacutically antiseptic (yet cozy) interiors of Scandinavian houses you saw on the pages of IKEA catalogues. Hennbysmauet is filthy, and it's a filth of many shifts of tenants, who didn't give a flying fuck about such prosaic things as cleaning the oven or throwing away an impressive collection of glass bottles from over the fridge. Mould creates fascinating patterns on the bathroom wall and there is some mysterious hole in the wall in the cupboard under the sink. The washing machine in our floor doesn't work and the vacuum cleaner is long gone. It's quite exciting to live here as well. The electric installation is so ancient, that the fuses blow every time someone tries to use some energy-consuming device. Such as hairdryer. You never know what else will blow up, or what will fall on your head.

czwartek, 14 maja 2015

On the way to Bergen

After three wonderful days in Oslo, filled with meeting with old and new friends, puppy-like excitement, small heart-attacks over the prices of everything and complete lack of understanding of spoken Norwegian, I finally embarked on the train to Bergen. The ride was supposed to take 5 hours and 30 minutes, so I had a book with me. 

I barely opened it. What was happening outside of the windows was absolutely amazing. I got on the train on one of the cloudy Oslovian afternoons (panting, because hey, who would have thought that car number eight is in the end of the train). We went slowly past the suburbs, green hills and wooden houses painted in red. Few hours later we were speeding trough big, white, empty wilderness. I swear, I've never seen so much snow in one place in my whole life. We were passing by villages with names, such as Gol or Huk, apparently made up in a way that's easier to hear over a blizzard. At least easier than, let's say Tissvassklumptjønnin. We have also stopped in Finse (population: 10), a village that is connected with the outer world by only one way, that is - railway. I saw houses almost completely buried in snow and turquoise glacial lakes. I saw walls of the tunnels covered with a layer of ice so thick, that it looked like there were build of it.

Apparently, the best thing in Oslo is a train to Bergen.

środa, 29 kwietnia 2015

Little update and #13 in progress!

So, the past months have been a rollercoaster to me. I sucked as a blogger, but I had a good reason to suck, since the everyday life became overwhelmingly time- and attention-consuming. I have managed to find a terrible job and quit it shortly after that. I had to leave a big house with a huge garden, where I grew up and move in to a new (and kinda small) apartment. According to Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, moving ranks as 32nd out of 43 traumatic life events. I totally confirm that. I started a business and spent countless hours on trying to make it work (still in progress, check it out here).

The room where I was living for the past 18 years of my life!

But the most important thing, is that a small window opened. A window, that allows me doing something I was preparing for for the past (almost) two years: moving to Norway and working there. This opportunity materialized in a person of my friend from the university, Hania, who apparently had bigger balls than me and last year just got a grip, went to Norway, found a job and spent lovely holidays in Bergen. (In the same time, 1400 kms south I was dreaming about Norway and in the same time panicking over the fact that I SURELY won't find a job and I will SURELY loose all my money). Hania networked me with her boss, I got the flight tickets, I was happy like a clam, and then it turned out that it's not gonna happen. Some formalities with Bergen kommune (authorities) have been missed and our workplace is not going to work for this season.

I got a small heart attack.

True, our boss said he still needs to confirm it, and it's not 100% sure, but my head was already floating in a pink cloud of optimism. What was even worse, is that I have no idea how it happen, but I bought flight tickets to Japan. I don't remember it, I suppose that a super cheap deal from All Nippon Airlines just dragged me into some dark alley, beat me up and riffled trough my pockets. When I woke up, I was 1500 PLN poorer and I had a tickets to Tokyo and back for September in my inbox. To Japan, you see, a super expensive country. Which I won't be able to afford without having worked in Norway. 

After a week of prayers to all known gods, some black magic targeted at Bergen kommune and complete panic, we got an e-mail confirming that our workplace, aka sausage stand in the Bergen's Fish Market is awaiting us. Relief is not even close to what I felt. So, here I come, I have tickets to Oslo booked for May 8th and then I'm going to Bergen on May 11th. 

That's more or less my new job. Continuing glorious traditions of fishmongering in Bergen!

I'm excited, and scared and excited again and I feel that's the rightest thing to do right now! (and: #13 in progress!)