if you want to be happy, be.
— leo tolstoy —
birthdays. i love them. mine, yours, his, hers, that guy down the street, my dog’s. i may not love the idea of getting older, but i absolutely love the idea of bringing people together to celebrate, have some drinks, good food, and lots of laughs. this was going to be my first birthday abroad in a few years and it was undoubtedly going to be a good one.
booking this trip would be the first time since going to iceland in april 2017 that i would be visiting only one country in europe, shocked? me too. when i decided in the fall of 2017 to pursue my european travel goal i told myself i wouldn’t repeat a country unless it was absolutely necessary (so far only norway in april and germany in february for carnival in cologne, which was absolutely necessary – read about it here), but i am also easily convinced and up for anything so how could i say no to another trip to norway for my birthday? i mean, let’s be honest, europe is always a good idea.
only a few weeks in boston and i was off to the land of fjords once again, but this time to spend my days with an entire pack of germans and a few native norwegians mixed in for good measure. since i have been 15, i have spent a lot of time in germany and took german for seven years in school, but speaking kinder deutsch definitely is no match for german-german spoken by actual germans when they are together with other germans. said germans, as i lovingly call them, are some of the happiest, funniest, most genuine people i have ever met and even though they decended upon norway a few days before i did, they were still more than ready for an awesome weekend by the time i crossed the atlantic on thursday.
a few of the germans i had already met in dortmund back in february, but two were new to me, which, of course, always has its complications. first, there is the whole language barrier thing, and second is being a bit of an outsider in a group where everyone already knows everyone really well. it’s always difficult when you’re thrown into a situation where you are the odd man out when it comes to anything, but with language it is especially difficult. i have felt it many times when hanging out with friends abroad, but in the end you have to suck it up, try your best to follow the conversations when possible (sometimes that entails laughing at jokes when you don’t understand them but everyone else is laughing so you just go with it) and realize that often times they are just as self conscious about speaking english as you are at speaking german (or danish, french, russian, etc.). that being said, one of the best things about having friends who speak another language and that have grown up in a different country than yourself is finding out that you really aren’t that different after all. we all watched friends, we all had parties at our parent’s houses when they were gone, we all drank too much at the club at 20 and made out with a guy on the dance floor in krefeld when his girlfriend was standing there (oh, just me?!? cool. 😬), and we all have many, many more similar experiences that make having conversations with people from worlds away relatively easy and always entertaining, so long as you make the effort.
i should also mention that i absolutely love teaching people new random american slang words. a few favorites of mine are ginormous, a gagillion, shitshow, and even better, when i was in norway in april we had a dinner party at tim’s and had an entire discussion about what you call it when you are super drunk. i offered up the word shitfaced and by the end of the night it was a running joke about who was the most shitfaced (not me for once, bonus!). i am assuming all of these words have now spread like wildfire across norway and germany.
friday was flying day in norway and if you read my last blog you’ll know i’ve already had a snowy winter weather flying excursion but now it was time for a spring view of beautiful telemark. there were eight of us, two planes and two captains. the odds are forever in my favor and i flew with captain kenneth on his seaplane and saw some of the most beautiful views of land and sea that i had ever seen. we even did a touchdown on the water and flew back off toward the sky seconds later. from takeoff to touchdown, it was pretty awesome. oh, and i have mentioned that i have awesome friends, right?
saturday was my 27th birthday party night (tim knows how i roll and knocked off 10 years from my age in balloon form) and everything about it was absolutely perfect. amazing sunny, warm weather all afternoon followed by absolute perfection for the evening’s festivities. if this is 37, i want to live it forever. i guess getting older, wiser and more adventurous has its advantages. we set up lanterns in the trees and a firepit for a gorgeous nighttime glow but in reality we were gearing up for something even more party perfect. it was finally time to make my tiny american flag proud. (another thoughtful touch from tim, my own homemade wooden flag pole topped off with the “biggest” american flag we could find. fun fact, the pole is still up and the flag is still flying to this day. it’s always fun for tim to explain to his houseguests why he has a tiny american flag on a giant wooden stick in his backyard.)
under the stars and stripes of my homeland, i was about to teach these europeans the real way to play beer pong, or as we call it at lehigh university, beirut. i came prepared and brought official, regulation sized cups from america because i do not mess around. i should mention, however, that my color of cup choice (clear) did sadden everyone as they assumed it was played with red solo cups, american stereotypes 🙄😂. after getting over that initial disappointment and then subsequently seeing two of the germans come out with a level to make sure the table was perfectly straight (they are german afterall), we were finally ready to play. i swiftly poured beer on one side as i watched the other team try to perfectly pour each cup with the exact same amount of beer (they are so cute, these germans). we initially stared with 2 vs. 3 while the others watched in amusement, but by the end of the night it was full on shitshow 4 vs. 4 with everyone playing and me refereeing to keep everyone in check. it was so much fun hearing everyone laugh and trash talk each other while playing a game who’s sanitary conditions are pretty much non-existent. when you wash a dirty ping pong ball off in a glass of once clean, but now dirty water, and then drink the beer it then lands in, you know you’re in for a solid night of mayhem.
midnight showed up after everyone had had a few games of beirut under their belts, and it was officially my birthday. the germans made me a homemade birthday cake that was both delicious and such a sweet, wonderful surprise (although making it with norwegian ingredients and not knowing what anything meant because it was all in norwegian, all while keeping it a secret from me, was an especially entertaining story after the fact). i felt so lucky at that moment to be surrounded by such wonderful, amazing people. i met everyone celebrating my birthday that night through friends of friends, and if that is not reason enough to go out and travel, open your mind, heart and arms to others, then i don’t know what it is. you never know, you could be celebrating your birthday under the stars in norway next year too.
we watched the sun come up that morning and a few hours later the germans were off to dortmund, and tim and i were off for a ride on his boat. we played uno (i still maintain he is a cheater, no way an american loses at uno), drank some wine, had an island bbq, laid in the sun and just enjoyed the perfect may weather. one really awesome thing about norway is their concept of the right to roam.
the right to roam, also called the right of access (allemannsretten) is a traditional right from ancient times, and from 1957 it has also been part of the outdoor recreation act. it ensures that everybody get to experience nature, even on larger privately owned areas. — www.visitnorway.com —
i mean, how amazing is that? you can take your boat, canoe, kayak, skis, bike, car or legs (or dogsled, this is norway after all) to any of the uninhabited islands or lands around the country and enjoy a day in the sun, a night under the stars, a picnic complete with portable bbq, or just go for some peace and quiet without worry about permits, trespassing, or park rangers all up in your business. so if you find yourself in norway, make sure to pack some hiking boots, a bathing suit, a tent and some provisions because you’re going to want to spend the majority of your time in nature experiencing the right to roam firsthand.
this was the first time i really felt relaxed in a very long time. i am so use to flying here there and everywhere that i often forget that a big part of traveling is taking some time to reflect, relax and rejuvenate….something that is often missed with me when i am flying to six new countries in ten days. maybe there is something to this whole concept of slow travel? i should probably look into that after 2018, i still have fourteen european countries to visit after all.
keep reading, keep checking in… i promise it gets better.
NEXT BLOG: milestone moments.