Inviting Comparisons

I’m embarrassed by my blogging absence and how hard I am finding it to get started again after a six-week hiatus, but here I am, after traveling for about five weeks and a week home to get back on my feet.  We left for Canada on Christmas Eve, then toured California, flew back to Canada, and then on to Norway to round out our travels in January.

Traveling. I’m not the first to muse on how visiting other places allows a traveler to reassess themselves. Usually, that process comes by way of remarking on similarities or differences in the culture through which the traveler is moving, and measuring their own responses to the events that seem so important in an alien world — simple transactions, usually, such as buying food, or figuring out how to get from here to there.

The Pacific from the Pacific Coast Highway. Not a normal day at all.

The Pacific from the Pacific Coast Highway. Not a normal day at all.

For me, California is home, so traveling there is a chance to see how much things have changed since I last lived there, and perhaps to mark how much I’ve changed.

Subzero temperatures in Alberta. That's a shocker. But good preparation for northern Norway (and Montreal).

Subzero temperatures in Alberta. That’s a shocker. But good preparation for northern Norway (and Montreal).

In Canada, everyday life seems so similar as to seem normal, which makes the differences stand out more — hockey! Tim Horton’s! Oh man, and blizzards. I must be from California.

And French-speaking Canada, where we were on the last leg of our North American tour, is definitely foreign to me. I must go back to Montreal for a longer visit. Weirdly, by the time we got back to Sweden, exhausted from so much moving about, I’d replaced a few key words with French, which was amusing and inconvenient all at once when my tongue rebelled during the one day we were in Stockholm before leaving for Norway.

From the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, a forecast of the band for aurora…

At the end of January, we headed to Tromsø, north of the Arctic circle, which was alien because of the near-complete darkness, the ice and snow, and yet Nordic and therefore comfortable — I could start to switch back to Swedish and be understood, for example. And comfortable for other reasons: an excellent transit system, good coffee, a pretty little walkable city of lights in the darkness surrounded by lovely glacier-carved mountains and valleys. And yes, we saw northern lights! (Which is a long story… )

Everything seemed more expensive in Norway, but not by too much considering Stockholm prices. Plus we found that beer sold in the grocery store was pretty cheap in comparison to the restaurants — about 30 kronor instead of 120, and oh my, available in a normal grocery, not the Swedish Systembolaget!  And how interesting to be in a place that seems so orderly and clean, so green (in the environmental sense) and calm, and realize a lot of that is built on oil wealth. No wonder a lot of the people we met in the service industry were from Portugal — an old trade connection sends its young north as workers after a reversal in economic fortunes. (All the chefs at a sushi restaurant we went to our last night there were Portuguese, so I might be exaggerating a wee bit… .)

After our short visit to the far north, Matt made the following very important observation:  Visiting somewhere colder and darker than Stockholm makes winter here seem absolutely bearable — even light-filled.  Almost.

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