Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Foreigner at Home

I feel foreign when...

  • I forget to wear my high heels and my long summer dress when we go for a stroll in the park.

  • Peter and I hold hands in public. Mothers and Fathers hold their children's hands; couples link arms.

  • Cigarette smoke bothers me.

  • I am with a large crowd of Americans.

  • When I attempt to speak Russian.

  • When I only understand one full sentence of Russian.

  • I look around and realize that no one looks like me. Strange! (Although, if I upped the dressiness level of my outfit, I could pass for Russian).

  • We buy bacon from the same place we buy homestyle chocolate chip cookies.
  • I flinch when a car gets a little too close to me.

I feel at home when...

  • I chat it up with the girl at the samci stand.

  • The woman at the rotisserie chicken stand (next to the little shop we go to to buy American chocolate chip cookies) says, “Ne Vedila Vam Davno” (I haven't seen you in a long time) after summer break.

  • When I can say “Well, it is Kyrgyzstan after all” in response to oh so many things – like how cars run the stoplights, how things are always done last minute, how it is hard or impossible to find this or that or the other etc... but would feel defensive if an outsider made the same comment.

  • When I understand a full sentence of Russian.

  • When I can show the new-hires their way around town.

  • When I boldly (albeit stupidly) walk across a crosswalk just because everybody else is, not because it is our turn to cross.

Moments in Bishkek

There is a new statue in town.  
We, it must be admitted, liked the old one better. 
Perhaps that makes us old-timers.


Who knew marigolds could grow so tall? 
(Or I could have such a funny look on my face?)

Who says you can't get these items here?
Date of Purchases:   Ranch - September 21st              
Brown Sugar (yes, that is Chinese you see on it)- September 22nd.  We are on a roll! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mandal, Norway.

Alright, the real beauty of this trip to Norway wasn't seeing the sights (although that was beautiful and worth it all by itself).  The beauty was seeing Anne again, meeting her husband Geir (for the second time) and getting to know him a bit, and meeting her two kids, Mads and Mina.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Anne and Geir, thank you so much for having us and showing us around.  It was FANTASTIC!

Here's what we saw:

The crew.

Mandal from above.

The old church in Mandal.

We went for a drive up to Bjaastad, which is where our (Anne and I) Great-Grandfather was raised.  He is buried at this church.  We also went to the site of the farm where he lived.  Pretty cool.

 My Great-Grandfather, Tobias Bjastad.

 The stairs to the house my ancestors lived in, and the house Grandpa Stanley Gammelgard visited in the summer of '39.  The pictures to follow are of the "front yard" of the home site.

We stopped in to see Olga (Anne's grandmother) on our way back from Bjaastad.  (To all you Kingsburg/Mission Springs folks, it might LOOK like Ryan Person was there with us, but that's my 3rd cousin Kristian, visiting his grandma (Olga).

 We delivered a (c. 1865) family heirloom back to Norway where it would be appreciated.  Thor Olav is holding here.

Anne, Geir, Katie and I went out on the North Sea and had a picnic on this island.  It was great fun. 

 I even took a short swim.  I was surprised to learn that, depending on the weather and water currents, the water here can be much warmer than Santa Cruz.  Lucky for me, it was one of those times, so I didn't turn all the way blue.

Pizza dinner with Geir, Anne and Mina.  Good times.

Somehow we needed a picture with the whole family.

I guess this worked pretty well too.

We took Gunhild and Thor Olav's bikes for a couple of good rides!

We went to the southernmost mainland to see the lighthouse there.  Lindesnes.  Beautiful.

We had lunch at the wool factory, then rode the bikes back to Mandal.

Finally, we flew out of Oslo, so we had an evening there to walk around.  Fun city, although the hotel was expensive ;o)

I think that's it for pictures from Norway on this blog.  Of course, there are many more and we'd love to share them with you if you're interested...  for $1,000,000.00.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


We met Anne and Gunhild in Stavanger, walked around, had dinner, then went to sleep.  The next day held a nice little hike for us to a place called "Preikstolen."  It means pulpit rock, or preacher's rock.  It sets nicely above the fjord.  Take a look.

Stavanger Moonrise

 The three ladies

 It was crowded.  More crowded than any of us expected.  It felt like Yosemite in summer.

She's like my extra/first sister!

Then, off to Mandal, a nearly idyllic town in the south of Norway.  Absolutely beautiful.  A great place live.  Thank you Anne for sharing with us!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Norway - The First Days


Alright, we get off the plane in Bergen at about noon and we get our luggage and head for the exit. After no passport check or anything, we go through the doors to find the smiling face of my dad's second cousin Bjørg. She and her husband were gracious enough to let us stay with them for two nights before we headed south to see Anne and her family in Mandal, but more of that later.

Bergen is Norway's second largest city and has a long history as a trading port between the north or Norway and the rest of Europe. It's really rather beautiful as, much like a lot of Norway's coast, mountains and sea come together. We were somewhat tired from the previous two days worth of whirlwind traveling and I suspect that Bjørg could see that. She said, “why don't you guys take a nap and I'll wake you up at 3:30 and we can go out for a hike and some sight-seeing.” We agreed to her plan. And boy, did we nap!

After that, it was up and at 'em to find dinner. We wanted to get hiking, so we ended up at McDonald's. Not just any McDonald's, mind you, but a McDonald's where a “meal” (McChicken, fries or salad, and soda) came to a whopping $17. Yes, you read that right, SEVENTEEN DOLLARS!!! And we don't even like McDonald's! In fact, we haven't been to one in years. And yet, there we were, eating our first meal in Norway under the golden arches.

Then, off we went to ride a tram to the top of a mountain and we enjoyed a glorious hike down the side of it. That was more our style. It was also great to chat with Bjørg and her husband. Bjørg, a believer, spent years with the Navigators in Norway; I (Katie) was part of the Navigators in college. Connections like that are always fun.

Here's a picture or two:

The next day we slept in and took a tram ($5) into town. There we faced a couple of dilemmas.

Dilemma # 1: We needed to change money, having only 100 kroner left (about $20). In Bishkek this would be no dilemma at all. Walk across the street from our apartment and there are at least 8 different places to change money, all with a competitively high rate. (That is to say, walk in and change $100 to som, then sell the som back into $ and you'd only lose about .75¢). Now, go to Norway where you could change money at the tourist information venue for a terrible rate of 4.8 (The real exchange rate is about 5.5 kroner per dollar). Or you could go to the bank and get a rate of 5.3. The only hitch was, at the bank there was a fee of 200 kroner. Do the math (or have a husband who does) and you realize that that is a fee of $40. Do the math again and realize that if you change a large sum of money, that fee of $40 is actually less than the amount you would lose at the tourist place. So, we took a number and waited at the bank. (We were reminded again that we were not in Kyrgyzstan where the concept of “take a number and have a seat while you wait”does not exist). We waited. And waited. And found free coffee/hot chocolate. The only thing free in Norway. Then, Peter was called up to the window and asked to show his passport. Um, we didn't need a passport to get out of the Norwegian airport, why the heck would we need it now? So, no, we didn't have the passport.

Okay, now things were getting a little desperate 100 kroner was just enough to get us back to the house and back to town again. And I was hungry. Which brings us to dilemma # 2.

Dilemma # 2: How will we eat in Norway?
A Snickers bar costs $3. A measly looking hot dog costs $7. A meal at McDonald's, oh wait, we've covered that one already! If you have a cheap soul and are looking for a way to diet, I suggest you go to Norway – without a lot of money. I am ever so grateful to the families that fed us during our stay there.

Our dilemmas were solved when: We wandered around and found a small bank that didn't need our passport and only charged us a $30 fee to change money (only!) and we bought a calzone (~$10) to split from 7-Eleven.

Then we were finally off to play in Bergen! We walked around and saw a bunch of the oldest parts of the city...

We ended up walking up one of the city's seven surrounding hills. On this particular hill, there is a funicular railway which you could take to a restaurant and viewing area. As Katie mentioned above, we wanted some money left when we departed for Bishkek, so walking was our mode of transport; we probably would have walked even if things weren't so expensive, but it has become a joke, so we'll go with it.

 These buildings are very old and really are as catty-wompus as they look.  Very cool.

We had dinner back at the house, and enjoyed an evening relaxing and chatting with our distant relatives. It was very fun to be in Bergen and to get to know some special people! Thanks!

Next morning, a bus to Stavanger to meet Anne!