Shadow and dark

Shadow and dark

by Janice Nigro

Shadow and dark: it is a poetic way to describe the winter light in Northern Europe. Not my words, but an accurate description of the form of light that occurs in between 9:30 and 15:30 along the coast of Norway in winter.

Last year, I discovered the fantastic benefits of traveling during this time period, late in the fall before Christmas, but in Indonesia! I was one of a few guests at an exquisite resort. It is a good time in general for travel unless you are from one hemisphere but live in another so that there is no shoulder season (if you are from the USA but live in Australia for example). It was a happy accident last year, and I had hoped to find myself back there at the same time this year. I got the travel part at this time of the year right, but surprisingly maybe, it is to Northern Europe.

It was work related (Berlin) but  a third city made a triangle of travel-Los Angeles-Bergen-Berlin-Los Angeles. I finally got clever about how to plan these trips: fly into one city and out of another: LAX to BGO via AMS and TXL to LAX. Somehow this works. All I had to do was purchase the ticket from Bergen to Berlin which was not so expensive.

Déjà vu…I have fond memories of wandering through Schipol Airport. When I had moved to Norway, I mistakenly thought that I would be trapped in Norway, especially in winter (ironically it was only ever a volcano that got in the way of my travels). But with Amsterdam just a little over an hour away, so was the rest of the world. Whether I was going back to my then home in Bergen or flying off to somewhere new, it always gave me a sense of freedom to be wandering (or running) through this airport.

So here I am, taking similar steps (which I now know add up to about a mile from outside Schengen to Schengen). Even the flights numbers are the same. KL 0602 from Los Angeles to Amsterdam. KL 1187 to Bergen. Same steps when I flew to Bali or Jakarta from Norway. I start to think about my life working in Norway and all of the vacation time… And while I was happy to be flying through here I have to admit it was tougher the other way around: flying round trip from Norway because I would be leaving the beach.

My first view of Europe again was literally at touch down. Suddenly we were on the ground. The fog was thick and reached all the way to the ground. It is 3°C outside, and I am about to break my record of missing winter (cold winter) for almost two years straight. I have met people who have never seen the snow, and want to, but I would rather be at the kind of beach where it never snows.

Some things have changed. The airport is under renovation and Starbucks seems to have grown and is in more places. Leonidas chocolate is still available so I am able to make a quick purchase for my hosts in Norway. And for myself-the small bags filled with odd chocolates for 7 euros is a deal especially when you find a bag containing the chocolates with coconut.

The flight to Bergen is on a cityhopper-only 36 people-a striking contrast to my flights earlier in the year on the A380. And it was cold…

It is a strange feeling to be a visitor in a city that you used to live in when it is in another country. When I think about returning to Bergen, I can not think of what is left to do after having lived there for so long. I think, I have done it all. I still, however, started to feel nostalgic, so that even the not so exquisite but terribly expensive restaurants I wanted to go back to, just because of the memories with friends.

But Norway is an interesting contrast in terms of the modern world and tradition. It is not like going to Indonesia and watching a woman balance her laundry in a basket on her head while talking on a cell phone, but you can order food that harkens back to the Viking age in a cozy modern restaurant while you connect with the Internet. Pingvinen is a bar/restaurant that I only ever frequented for drinks, but it has incredible food that is also very Norwegian. For example, you can order småhode or lutefisk. I stuck with fresh steamed cod with vegetables…

Three days passed quickly arranging samples to be sent to the USA (ha, but were in fact inadvertently sent to Germany-another story). And visiting as many friends as possible. Touching base only and feeling disappointed when it was time to rush out to catch another bus.

On to Berlin via København. A big plane, a few hours of shopping (amazing stores there but exactly who buys dinnerware in between flights?), and another cityhopper to Berlin.

Berlin is an expansive city (my weekend started off with two days in the Psychiatric Clinic at Charité for a meeting though; yes this is Janice’s World). Museums, shops, and restaurants. When you think you have reached the end of something, something new begins. My strategy over the few days, however, was to forgo the museums (Nefertiti will have to wait), as Christmas happens only once a year. One flaw in my strategy, though, was that I was on my own. This meant that even though I could surely find the Christmas markets, it was not exactly clear what I should be looking for or sampling or what the meaning of anything was.

A friend told me it was all about the food. I set off one day, following his directions, “Get off at Karl Marx Strasse and follow the people.” Karl Marx Strasse…I have to admit that walking on a street named Karl Marx felt a bit odd. Why a street would be named after someone who created principles that in part divided the city as well as the country are somewhat contradictory to the life that we lead in the USA. I followed his not so detailed directions and indeed found the Christmas market.

It was a roasting pig that I was obsessed with as well as the swinging circular grills with hot coals and sizzling sausages.

It starts to feel familiar after a couple of days, wandering around a European city and tuning out all conversations as it is not your first language. The shadow and the dark by 16:00. The hotel proprietor complained about it as the worst period of the year-and I understood the feeling of not wanting to get out of bed. And once you do, you only think all day about getting back into it.

And the familiarity in the somewhat stiffness of the Northern Europeans. But sometimes there is a break in their apparent indifference to people who are strangers. I decided to break my routine of pizza and Italian, and find a real German restaurant. I was stuck on which one of two choices on the menu, and the waiter suggested that I have one of the choices for dinner tonight and return the following night for the second. Good plan I thought, but the roasted duck with red cabbage and potato dumplings was deliciously satisfying enough for one trip to the restaurant.

One more meeting to go. A collaborator who has become a friend. Usually we meet in Dresden, but this time she took the bus to Berlin. And then 4:00 to Tegel for another cityhopper to AMS.

This time it strikes me that although travel is often about seeing some place new, at some point in your life it starts to be about meeting people again. I could never understand how my parents could make the trip to Italia so frequently over many years, but now I know, because over the years they made so many friends there.

KL 0601 AMS to LAX…

©2014 Janice Marie Nigro/


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