Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How we got from there to here, part 2--leaving Oslo

After arriving at Mia-Simone's in Oslo and getting a good night's sleep, the next day we simply rested. We lounged in bed, read books, and were bums. It felt delightful. Later in the afternoon we went downstairs and hung out with Mia-Simone, and Brendan made dinner that night for the three of us and Mia-Simone's flatmate, Lauren. We played some Yatzy (not quite the same rules as Yahtzee, but very similar) and enjoyed laughing together. We felt very comfortable staying with Mia-Simone and Lauren and were a little reluctant to get back on the road. We ate a late breakfast together the next day and took a leisurely time getting ready, and then checked our email. We had invitations to come and interview at a couple of Berlitz locations! This got us motivated to continue on to Germany. We responded to the emails to try and set up some possible interview dates, and then set out on the road once more.

We walked from their place to an E-6 south entrance. It wasn't a busy entrance, but it was in a beautiful spot surrounded by high hills and trees, and the weather was finally not rainy but rather beautiful. Sometimes slower spots almost seem like better spots. It's as if the people passing us realize that we will have a hard time getting a ride, so they feel more responsible for helping us get to a different spot. I sometimes think that people who pass us at very busy spots are just thinking "Ah, I'm sure someone else will stop for them." So just 11 minutes of waiting and we had a ride. This was at 2:46pm.

Our ride was from Nels, a football (soccer)-coach dad. His team had recently played in the Norway Cup, the largest youth football tournament in the world. They had been eliminated after a couple of days and even though they had planned to stay and watch the rest of the tournament, the coaches were so disappointed that they left. They made it up to their team by taking them out for pizza later. One of my Norwegian cousins was also participating in this tournament with his team from Haugesund, but I'm not sure how they did in the end. If any Norwegian relatives are reading this, could you post a comment with the results?

Nels wasn't going far but said he could drop us off at a better spot outside the city. It was indeed outside the city, but not the greatest spot. It was another plain entrance rather than an entrance by a gas station, which is usually better for us. Even so, we got a great ride within half an hour from a man named Frederick who was going quite close to Gothenburg, which was where we were trying to get. Frederick is from Sweden but had been in Norway for the weekend for a jazz festival. He is our age or a little younger, but has a house and I think he said he has a kid. He has been working since he was 17 years old and now has his own company. He sounded a little jealous of our travels because he feels he is too tied down to do much traveling.

Frederick dropped us off at a gas station. We used the restrooms and by this point Brendan wasn't feeling very well. He wasn't sure if it was his appendix, but the pain was feeling similar to what he has experienced in the past, so we started talking about the possibility of going to a hospital. He wasn't feeling so bad, though, so we kept on hitching. We walked out to the freeway entrance and soon had a ride with Leo, a man we'd had a ride with on our way north to Norway. As Brendan described in a previous blog, he felt more comfortable with Leo because we had already met him, and Leo showed us the way to the hospital in Gothenburg.

The rest of the story you have probably already read, so I will end part 2 here. We are in Saarbrücken now and had interviews at the Berlitz here yesterday. They were the last of our scheduled interviews, so now we are going to return to visit friends in Bonn and Düsseldorf as we wait to hear back from the Berlitz locations where we already interviewed--Magdeburg and Hamburg. Next post I will try to bring everything back to the present moment, but for now we must begin another hitchhiking day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How we got from there to here, part 1

It's been awhile since I've done one of these posts, a post that recounts the journey. In the past two weeks we have traveled approximately 2,261 kilometers, or 1,405 miles. This leg of our hitchhiking journey began in Christiansand, Norway on Thursday, July 30. From Karmoy Island we had traveled with my cousin Unni and her husband Sven Erik to Sven Erik's family's cabin about an hour or so away from Christiansand. We spent one night there and the next day Unni and Sven Erik kindly drove us into Christiansand. At this point we had decided to try and get to Germany as quickly as possible because of our new life plan, so we planned to take the ferry from Christiansand to Denmark.

New life plan? What's this we talk about? Since arriving in Germany, and really, quite a while before then, we've realized how much we want to settle down again for awhile and have a home of our own. When we were in Seattle we applied for jobs and seriously planned to shorten our trip and move back if we got a good offer. We didn't. In Germany we learned about the possibility to become English teachers with a company called Berlitz and started forming all sorts of new dreams.

While in Norway we converted our resumes to the Curriculam Vitae (CV) format and sent them to every single Berlitz location in Germany. We got a lot of "Thank you for submitting your CV, but we are not currently hiring..." and, thankfully, a few offers to come and interview. We scheduled interviews as soon as possible because we want to settle down as soon as possible, so off we headed to the ferry terminal.

We found out that tickets would cost $75 per person. We had heard from Sven Erik's family that there are two ferries going to Denmark from Christiansand, a fast one and a slow one. We wanted to take the slow (read: cheaper) ferry, but it turns out they canceled it some years ago and the only option was the fast one. Tickets were that expensive because we did not book in advance and those were the only seats left. Since you recently read about our budget, you know $75 per person for a ferry ride is way outside it. Plus, the next available ferry was the next morning. So we set out to hitchhike.

Feeling a little forlorn, we went the grocery store first and bought some comfort food (this is where that cheap chicken was bought, and chocolate for me), ate some of it, then walked to an entrance to E-18 to head to Oslo. We had sent a few couchsurfing requests to Oslo before making the plans to take the ferry so we just hoped that we could find internet when we arrived in Oslo and that someone would be able to host us.

After about 45 minutes of holding out our thumbs, and just as we started talking about how maybe we should bite the bullet and just take the ferry to Denmark, we got a ride at 2:53pm. Stefan was not going far, but he said he could put us at a better hitchhiking spot. He had hitchhiked a lot in the past, so he picks up hitchhikers now. He dropped us off at a bus stop just off of the E-18 where we could thumb and be visible to all traffic along the E-18.

It was indeed a good spot. Five minutes later we had a ride with Helge, who shared cold cokes with us. He was on his way to Lillesand to pick up his son for the weekend. He had a funny conversation with his Polish friend while we were in the car with him. From our end we heard "I cannot understand you. Are you drunk?" He dropped us off at about 3:30pm.

It started raining. It rained, I think, every single day that we were in Norway, so this was no surprise, but unpleasant all the same. Just after getting thoroughly wet, we got got a ride with Johnny. He also wasn't going far, but he said he could take us to a gas station where at least we would have some cover. We took a bathroom break, then walked out to the road where, thankfully, there was another bus stop with a shelter. I sat under the shelter while Brendan thumbed, protected as you can see.

At 4:30pm we had a ride with Tor Magne, another man on his way to pick up his son for the weekend. He was going quite far along our way so we had plenty of time to dry off and sit back and relax. Tor Magne is a plumber who is hoping to get a job at a college because the pay is good and he would get all the right time off for holidays. His son lives in Tonsburg and he used to also and would like to move back there. He grew up in Christiansand and his parents live there still, but his extended family and all his friends are in Tonsburg.

He dropped us off at 7:30pm at a gas station just off the E-18. He drove at least another 20 minutes out of his way just to put us at a good spot. The weather that day hated us. It started raining again just after he dropped us off (by the way, Tor Magne told me that Norway has had its rainiest summer in over 100 years), rained just long enough to drench us, then stopped raining.

At 8:05pm we got a ride with a man who is living in Norway but is from Poland. His holidays had just started and he was on his way to Oslo with his son and the next day would fly to Krakow to visit. (Brendan thinks the son had been visiting his dad in Norway and was now headed back home on a plan... slightly different understandings of speakers of English as a second language are not uncommon to us. Two days ago Jan (of Elke and Jan, you'll learn about them soon) said that he just couldn't sleep if one of his friends was snorkeling in the room.) We were with him not quite long enough to dry out all the way, but at least it was warm and comfortable in his car, and he was listening to some fun music (take my breath away, bum bum, bum bum, bum bum). He dropped us off at a metro stop and told us we could take the metro into the city center.

We got on the metro and got some further instructions from the driver about where to get off and where to find an internet cafe. I was feeling pretty miserable by this point. Wet and cold and hungry and I could only really solve one of those problems. So when we got to the central station, after finding that toilet in the pizza place, I sat down to eat some beans while Brendan got started checking our couchsurfing messages. I felt a lot better after that, and Brendan had some good news.

One couchsurfer had responded with a yes, so we called her and explained that we were at the central station and could we please come to her place right now? She said of course, and we happily made our way there on the metro. By this time it was dark outside and around 10pm or so. When we got off at her stop, we walked in what we thought was the right direction and just before we had the chance to get really lost, a car pulled up by us. A woman poked her head out the window and said, are you Stina and Brendan the couchsurfers? Yes, we are! It was Mia-Simone, our hitchhiking-couchsurfer-host, whom you know from the interview-video. There wasn't room in the car for us, but we could follow it right to her doorstep.

Mia-Simone showed us where we would sleep, we changed out of our disgusting wet clothes, then joined her for hot tea. It is the greatest relief in the world to be relieved of physical discomfort and know that you will sleep in a warm bed. This post will have to be continued because we must do a little shopping so we can look nice for our interviews tomorrow at the Berlitz in Magdeburg, Germany. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Greetz from Oslo!

One of those promised posts - finances

How in the world can we afford to do what we're doing?

In all, we've spent about $5000 in the past 10 months, including student loan payments, airplane and bus tickets, 4 months of rent, and emergency medical care. Excluding those, we've spent about $200 per month or $3 per person per day. And we're having fun, that's important, too, isn't it? We have since increased our daily budget to $15/person because we saved so much in the earlier part of our trip and anticipate either having jobs in Germany or moving to Los Angeles in 3 months. Please note that the "Europe on a Shoestring" and other budget travel books suggest a daily budget of anywhere from 40-70€ per day (That's, like, 4 times our budget. Plus, they make sweeping generalizations about nationalities, and that just smacks a bit of racism/nationalism, especially when the generalities are on the order of "Austrians are grouchy and right-wing". NOT a view we espouse.)

Here's what you should do to live a typical week of our lives (spliced together to accomodate a wide variety of money-saving tactics, but all borrowed from real experience):
Wake up in Lingdal with some cousins. Eat a full breakfast, compliments of the family. Get a cozy, comfy ride to Kristianstad and bid adieu to the relatives.
Go into the Ferry terminal. Learn that the cheap tickets to Denmark sold out, and we can either pay the equivalent of $75 or wait a week. Leave ferry terminal to consider options. Go into grocery store. Brendan is pleased as punch to find a whole grilled chicken for 29,90 kr ($5). Stina gets chocolate and beans (pork and beans style, but without the pork) for about the same total. Eat on the curb while watching the Norwegian world go by.
Upon having full stomachs, come to realize that hitchhiking is the best thing in the world.
Catch some rides into Oslo (Thank you, rides!). Ride the train ($6 each) to the center of town, getting directions from the train driver while aboard. Hurry into the central station (it's dark now) to find bathrooms. Discover these cost money, so go to Peppe's Pizza across the street and ask the bartender if we can use their bathroom. Get the kind man's permission. Use the toilets. Eat bread and cheese or chicken.
Haven't confirmed a place to sleep tonight, so find the Sidewalk Express internet terminal (1 hr - 2€ - $2.80). Log in to Find kind like-minded host has responded to request (have sent about 9 to potential hosts). Copy down the directions left in the message and a phone number. Log off after 12 minutes, save sidewalk express username and password in wallet. Find whole cigarette laying on ground. Pick up, examine, determine cleanliness and perfection, hide in brim of hat for use later as bargaining chip when thrown in the slammer.
Ask the lady at the newspaper kiosk which numbers to dial into the pay phone. Put lots of small change and one large piece of change into the phone. Dial the correct numbers. Confirm that you can stay with her, get some specifics about getting off the train, down the hill and to her home. Hang up and collect all the pieces of small change, losing only the 20 kr piece ($3.33). Get on subway, noting that bus ticket from earlier will suffice for this ride. Ride tram to appropriate stop, enjoy sensation of rain in anticipation of dry abode. By happenstance, meet host as she drives past. Follow car to home. Go to room. Spread out wet gear to dry. Go downstairs for a cup of tea and to get to know host. Sigh with contentment.
Awesome day! Total cost: $14.07 per person
Awake next morning around 10:30AM. Shower. Plan to go into Oslo to see the sculpture park and all the awesome things there are to do for free in Oslo. Opt to read and nap instead. Around 3PM journey downstairs to visit with hitchhiking-enthusiastic host. She's making jam. Go outside and pick plums and cherries from her trees. Interview host about her hitchhiking. Learn of her housemate's impending birthday. Choose to make a special meal for the evening. Go to store and discover that they don't carry tomato paste or lentils. Buy fixins for spaghetti and sauce: Pasta ($2), tomatoes ($2), canned tomatoes ($1), red peppers ($2.50), Hvitlok (garlic, $2). Already have onions. Buy ice cream ($4). Buy yogurt ($2). Go home and make dinner while everybody chats in the kitchen. Be the opener of a fine Riesling contributed by the birthday girl. Eat way more than necessary. Play Yatzy (the Scandinavian version!). Giggle until breathless. Sigh with satisfaction.
Awesomer day! Total cost: $7.75 per person
Awake next morning around 10AM. Wish the birthday host her happy birthday. Eat jam and bread and leftover pasta. Use internets to discover possible jobs in Magdeburg and Saarbrücken. Relax in the sun with Euro Shopper brand müsli and yogurt. Bid adieu to hosts. Tramp, upon consultation of map and knowledge of hitchhiking-savvy host, to nearby freeway entrance. Catch some rides (thank you, rides!). With last ride of the day, learn of a medieval festival in a castle taking place in Kungälv. Ride is working at festival, and can sneak you in for free. Accept invitation to stay the night in host's tent on the castle grounds. Borrow clothes from host. Meet host's friends, all fellow LARPers. Notice that they all call one of their number "Dansk". Also call him "The Dane". Imagine he's decended from the same line as Hamlet. Learn to say "Kann jorg yelpe de?", "Jorg elske de.", "Wat hette du?", and "Hor mor du?". Become "The American". Find a discarded plate of medieval stew. Follow the partying medievally-garbed men and women around the castle. Sigh with excitement.
Unexpected day! Total cost: $0 per person
Awake around 9AM. Use toilets. Help set up a beam for an activity for the public to enjoy. Anticipate swinging a straw pillow at an opponent and falling off. Gather straw and spread on mat under beam so that falling off won't hurt. Follow someone important-looking to their car and ride with them to the store. Buy tomatoes ($2) and cheese ($8). Return to castle by secret entrance. Note that porta-potties have become pay-porta-potties. Thank lucky stars you already went. Wander around festival now in progress. Watch the slave auction. Try to participate, but fail. Covet others' candy apples. Find candy apple dropped in dirt and abandoned. Take to hose. Wash thoroughly. Enjoy thoroughly. Listen to rocking German bagpipe group that everybody's been talking about, Schelmisch (trans.: Rogueish). Scavenge two more candied apples and some bread from trash cans. Everything free tastes better. Leave festival, using workers' toilet on the way out. Tramp about 1k to nearest freeway entrance. Catch some rides (thanks, rides!). End up at deserted entrance. Watch gorgeous sunset as you try to catch another ride. Wander into woods and make good use of alt mann's rette (trans.: every man's right). Sleep with the gurgle of a stream to lull you. Sigh with appreciation.
Delicious day! total cost: $5 per person
Awake to rain pattering the tarp on the tent at 7AM. Hurry up and pack away everything. Thank goodness for tarps. Hitch towards Copenhagen (thank you, rides!). Have a slow day. STop at a gas station with a Burger King. Bus other people's abandoned food. Scavenge 1 large fry's worth of fries. Get ride to Malmö. See the Turning Tower and the bridge to Denmark at night. Ride asks his building's "fake cop" (his words. Americans might say "rent-a-cop"... but properly and in order to not be derogatory, you think "security guard") if you can sleep in the apartment building's side yard. The guard says that he won't disturb you unless someone complains. You decide that's too much of a risk, and your kind and patient ride leads you 200 meters to a park. Find an out of the way corner and pitch your tent. Awake to rain pattering at 2AM and cover the tent with a tarp. Toss and turn restlessly. Sleep fitfully. Sigh with exasperation.
Rough day! total cost: $0 per person
Get up at noon. Trudge to hitchhiking spot as advised by hitchhiking-unsavvy ride the night before. Stop to use the restrooms in a mall along the way. Complete trudge to spot. Turn down 3 rides (thank you, almost rides!) going the wrong way. Make a sign. Wait at fruitless spot through heavy rains. Get cold, wet, and frustrated. Practice singing. Give up. Trudge back to mall. Go to grocery store. Find too-high prices and a confusing array of goods. Buy chocolate (16,50 kr - $2.35). Sit despondently. Get fed up with bread and cheese. Go back into grocery store. Buy lettuce ($3), tomato ($3), mango (7,90 kr $1) and feta cheese (13,90 kr - $2). Eat salad in a plastic bag. It's a delicious change of pace. Decide to go to train station to see your non-hitchhiking options. Have no Swedish cash for tram. Try to buy crackers and get cash back at store. Get told "not with that card". Buy crackers anyway in embarrassment (9,90 kr - $1.40). Just start walking towards the center of town. Get confused about which way to go. Ask a lady who speaks no English. Watch her disbelief as you try to explain you are WALKING into the center because you don't have 18 measly kröner to take the bus. Accept with grace that she has pointed in two directions 90 degrees apart and indicated that they are the centrum. Note that the signs also point in two directions, and suspect that one is for cars and one is for bikes. Then accept that that still doesn't make sense, but walk in the direction that seems for bikes. Spy a streetcar after trudging a couple km. Discover hurrah! that you can buy tram tickets with a Visa. Get flustered when presented with options for Copenhagen and Malmö centrum. Choose the cheaper of 2 options (18 kr - $2.65 per person). Feel poor. Eat some chocolate. Find Malmö centrum to be bustling but closed. Note the very sad woman on the floor and the man protesting to a transit employee that they don't have any money. See Sidewalk Express. Use a few more of the minutes you already have from your card in Oslo to check some internet. Consider the lateness of the day and the possibilities available to you. Get frustrated and flustered when you realize you poured $5 down the drain. Get over it. Bite the bullet and buy tickets to Copenhagen ($14 per person). Discover that nothing seems cheap or easy. Then discover that Sidewalk Express provides free access to Gmail and Blogger. Send emergency couchsurfing requests for Copenhagen and to a friend in Copenhagen. Call friend in Copenhagen (5,20 kr - $1.40). Get email from friend. Go to her home. Sleep soundly. Sigh with relief.
Long day! total cost: $16.75 per person
Wake up at 9AM. Enjoy the company and generosity of friend and her roommate, who both insist on paying for everything. See the amazing city of Copenhagen. Sleep.
Rejuvenating Day! total cost: $0 per person
Cost for the week: $87.14 for two people or $6 and some change per person per day.

Most mornings when we wake up in someone's home we have a full and leisurely breakfast during which we share our jam, cheese and chocolate, and they offer us some veggies, bread and spreadables.

Now play mad lib with the details for a choose your own adventure and send it to us. You can do this. If you don't, we'll try to live it out vicariously for you!


Wow, past couple of days

Hello everybody.

We are still alive.

At some point really soon, we will write a blog about how we afford it, since that's the absolutely most common question we get. We'll also update everybody on the past several days of hitchhiking.

But first things first.

We're alive.

I had a brief bout with appendicitis a few days ago. My stomach started to hurt as it has in the past, and on our way to Gothenburg, I told Stina that I had to see a doctor. We had just gotten a ride with Leo... a man who picked us up near where he had dropped us off about 10 days earlier (that's right, two rides with the same guy!). I think because he had given us a ride before, I felt more comfortable talking with him openly about what I needed... I.E. a hospital. He took us to the public transit (a ferry to the center of town) and showed us which tram to get on and which stop to get off at for the hospital. We did as we were told. I tried not to groan with pain, but when we got off the tram, I walked about 100 meters and then lay down on the ground. Stina went to find the entrance to the emergency room. It was only 30 meters away. I got up and walked in. Stina had gotten a number. It was 6:45pm. We waited an hour or two. A nurse called my number. He was very kind and very clear. First, once we were away from Stina, he asked if there was anything secret I was here for, then he did the things nurses do when they're checking you out like blood pressure and temperature (in the ear!). Then he took my passport and my Visa. I paid 2898 (398 dollars) kröner, which is what Americans must pay. He told me this would cover the emergency room visit, but anything else would be extra. Then he sent me back out to the waiting room with a spiffy new bracelet that said my name and had a bar code on it. A kind fellow waiting room patient offered us any help she could provide. Stina borrowed her cell phone and called the couchsurfer we had lined up for the night to explain that we wouldn't make it, 'cause we were in the hospital. We watched very quiet Family Guy, Simpsons, some Stevel Segal and Keenan Ivory Wayans movie, and had just gotten to a Jackie Chan film called The Accidental Spy when an orderly led me to a room just outside of the waiting room where I could lie down on a gurney. They watch TV very quietly since it's all in English and they read the subtitles, I guess. Stina got to dozing on my shoulder after I made her tell me a story promising that all would be well. She reassured me with a story about how my appendicitis was actually a bizarre pregnancy that would have to be resolved after 9 months of pain and a c-section. She could have been more reassuring. I rubbed my belly and jiggled it, and this seemed to ease the pain. I've noticed in past circumstances that showers tend to ease the pain as well. I hypothesize that the nerve endings start to pay attention to the surface sensations and distract my brain from the pain a little bit. The doctor arrived at I don't know what time. As soon as he entered the room, my pain eased a little more. There was something very healing about this humorful Swedish doctor. He felt my belly, listened to my description of the pain and my medical history, and joked about the U2 concert. He told me that the symptoms all added up to a minor flare-up. He said they used to take out all appendices, and he could do it "snip, snip in 10 minutes" but then I might have bowel problems tomorrow or in 20 years. So he came up with two recommendations: 1. He could keep me overnight for observation or 2. He could send me on my way. I said our travel was flexible, and so a day or two, if he recommended it, would be fine... would it cost much? His response... he didn't know. From this point on, I felt very much like I was in an American hospital. Nobody had any inkling how much anything cost. He said he would ask the secretary, but he couldn't imagine it was more than a couple hundred kröner. He left and came back... she didn't know either... she'd tried to find the answer on the internet, too, but couldn't. He said, though, that he would make sure I was sent away with some antibiotics and painkillers as a gift from Gothenburg. That was a funny phrase to me that he mentioned several times. He said "I can't stand here and say Sweden is perfect, it won't cost you anything, but I think so." Then he sat in a chair and chatted with us for a bit, which was really nice to see. Hospitals often make me feel harried and hurried, but I felt like if something was wrong, I would have an opportunity to tell him. I think that's a rare gift that some doctors possess. I've seen it before, and it's one of the best feelings I can get from a doctor. We told him about hitchhiking and I mentioned that if he said we should not do it, we wouldn't. He didn't say that. He poked me once to prove a point... as if to say, "I know this hurts, but it doesn't hurt SOOOO much". He was right, of course.
My mother keeps saying I have a high tolerance for pain... but I wonder if maybe I have a low tolerance. We keep hearing stories now about people having their appendices taken out, but doctors don't want to take mine out.
Later a nurse came in and gave me morphine. I felt mostly better already, but wasn't awake enough to protest.
To conclude, I spent the night in the ward. Stina also got a bed to sleep on. The nurses were very nice, one of them even promised to find out how much a night in the hospital would cost. She never did. I felt much better in the morning, ate breakfast, saw the doctor one more time, took a shower, got antibiotics ("a present from the hospital"), and checked out with the nurse. I have no idea if they're just going to charge my Visa card for the further expenses or if everything was covered in that initial 2898 kröner.