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Greeting from Norway

October 31, 2005

That’s right, I am in the land of the Vikings. I am told it is beautiful here, but I wouldn’t know. I got here yesterday around noon but I haven’t been able to see more than a couple hundred yards…oh, sorry, meters…due to the fog, or mist, or whatever that non-pollution-based stuff is blocking my view. Hopefully things will clear up before my flight back to Amsterdam on Wednesday evening. I am teaching a workflow class on the 23rd floor of a building connected to the central Oslo train station. I am told the view is especially good from up there.

The trip up here was pretty nice. It was my first flight on KLM and I got bumped up to Business Class. That was because I checked in using my Northwest Airlines Silver Elite status. Normally you get these status levels on various airlines after flying a bunch of miles, but one of the benefits of working for a big company like Microsoft is that I got bumped to upper levels on a few airlines just by asking the travel department. I was instantaneously Silver Elite. I have never even been on a Northwest plane. I left Microsoft over a year ago, but the bump was good for two years. Woohoo!!!

As soon as I arrived in Oslo I noticed one big difference from Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, most things are in Dutch, but then there are other items in English too. And if its only in Dutch, there is a good chance you will be able to figure out what the word or phrase means. In Norway NOTHING makes any sense unless you speak Norwegian. All of the words are bizarre. I guess it could be worse, like Welsh or Czech with long runs of consonants between the precious few vowels. But its still fun trying to figure it what it all means. From the airport to the Oslo city center there is a great express train. Don’t ask me how much it costs…everything is in Norwegian Kroners which I think are roughly 1/10th of a Euro. If they are actually closer to a full Euro, then I have blown a lot of money in the last 24 hours!

One of the benefits of my hotel is that it is right next door to the Oslo central train station. Door to door is roughly a hundred yards…erm, meters (sorry, I still think in feet and yards and Fahrenheit). Unfortunately, the train station has many doors and I made the worst choice. I ended up wandering the streets for a good 45 minutes before I gave up and walked into a competing hotel to ask the reception desk staff. They pointed me in the right direction and I was able to check in soon after.

After the last few hotels I have stayed in in Europe I was starting to believe that they had all done away with one of their most annoying features: the need to slip your key in a slot to get power to the room. But no, there are still some hotels that use this ass backward scheme. Ugh. So I got into the room and spent a few minutes trying to figure out why every lamp seemed to be broken. In case you have no idea what I am talking about, there is a slot near the front of the room that accepts your hotel room card key. Slip it in and the power to your room is turned on. When you leave the room and take your key, power is turned off. This may have been a good idea 10 years ago when people didn’t carry around many electronic devices, but now a visit to the hotel restaurant is a perfect time to charge your cell phone or laptop. But with this scheme, you can’t do that because as soon as you take the key out, all power turns off. Even power to the outlets. And this hotel claims to cater to business folks. Its just wacky. But thankfully I found a way around this ridiculous limitation. It turns out that the slot just needs a stiff item the size of the card key to be slipped in. So I ripped a few sheets of paper off the pad by the phone, folded them to the right size, and slipped them into the slot. Power on, problem solved!!!

Another weird trend are the beds. I am not sure if they have ever heard of a queen or king sized bed. They are all singles. If you need a bigger bed, they squeeze two single beds together. But then there is the valley of discomfort in the middle. Having a single bed in a small room may make sense, but the room I am in right now has two singles squeezed together, but made up as two beds. I don’t know if I have ever seen a hotel bed in the US smaller than a real queen size. But I can live with this. Its not really a big deal, but I always notice it.

So anyway, yesterday afternoon, I wandered the streets of Oslo to see what is here. My next shock was that everything was closed. Midday on a weekend and all of the shops in the central shopping area were closed. The streets were crowded with people, but all the stores were shut. Is there a law in Norway that says stores can’t open on Sunday? This evening I wandered again and had better luck, though by 6 it seemed that most of the stores were getting ready to close anyway. One of the guys in my class today made a suggestion of walking to a big fortress which is I think to the south. I guess he wasn’t suggesting that route for the evening but rather if I found myself back here on a weekend. The sites on my stroll weren’t quite what I was expecting.

As soon as I veered off the main drag, the number of people walking along the street thinned out. The further I went, the more I saw people walking in the other direction. And they all gave me funny looks as I passed them. I figured I must just stand out as the obvious American. So as I got closer to my goal I started to notice clusters of people just standing around, often at the corners of the streets. It wasn’t until I had gone several blocks that I noticed that they were all women. Thinking about it later its obvious that these must be ‘working’ women. But it wasn’t immediately obvious. In Miami or New York or Seattle or San Francisco, they are a little more obvious. You know, just like in the movies: fish net stockings, mini skirts riding way too high, tight tops, etc. But here all the women were in jeans and padded winter coats. Not exactly the sexy look that you would normally think of. And it wasn’t until they started coming up to me offering their ‘services’ that I realized what they were and that I was probably walking into an area I didn’t want to be in. I turned around and started getting back into a friendlier area of town.

Back on the main drag I was able to find a nice restaurant (The Grand Café), have a very nice meal (Reindeer!!! Who knew that Rudolph would be so tasty?), and get back to my hotel. And now its now. Bed time. Tomorrow is day two of the class, focusing on using Visual Studio with Workflow. Should be fun…

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