Bybanen

I am in love with the city light rail in Bergen, Norway, called "bybanen" (BEE-bah-nen). It took five years after it was built for me to actually ride the darned thing, but after that, it has become my most popular modern addition to this old medieval town. And now they're building a line to my neck of the woods!

I am excited about getting the light rail in 2022! Yeah, that is a long way off. They started digging in February of this year. I walk past the construction site for the station in Fyllingsdalen (the suburb where I live and work) nearly daily. I've been trying to document (sort of) the changes construction is creating in my neighborhood. 

The start of construction of bybanen in Fyllingsdalen, March 2018.

The start of construction of bybanen in Fyllingsdalen, March 2018.

5 months later and all those pipes on the first picture are underground - August 2018

5 months later and all those pipes on the first picture are underground - August 2018

Bergen being Bergen, there are strong opinions for and against the light rail. A lot of people think it's a waste of space and money, inferior to better bus routes, and ohmygawd it takes a full 45 minutes from downtown to the airport!!! 

Look, I've taken the light rail all the way from Byparken (the downtown stop right next to the city park) to the airport. It takes a predictable amount of time (but the hard seats are not kind to aching hips). It also costs the exact same as the city bus (NOK 37 if you prepay an adult ticket). As a comparison, our nice airport bus costs NOK 115 for a prepaid one-way ticket from downtown.

Anyway, today I got to ride the light rail again. My psychologist's office is one stop away from the airport, so I ride the rail one stop from the bus terminal. Today I didn't have to go back to work afterward, so decided to ride to the airport to get a better picture of the "Bergen?" signage—the artwork at the airport that I discovered you can see from the air! (Another version is in the rotating header pics, but has construction equipment in the foreground.)

This sign gets people, especially the locals, talking.

This sign gets people, especially the locals, talking.

May is for strikes

I remember strikes used to terrify me. I was so brain-washed by the American view of unions that I quit mine here in Norway once in a panic. I rejoined quickly and have a gold pin for 25 years' membership and first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be on a proper strike.

As April rolls around, unions start negotiations. It's a bi-annual thing. My union (the union of financial and insurance employees) does its thing in even-numbered years. This year it's a tad more interesting than usual. We've broken off negotiations. There are three main points of contention that my union won't agree to. If we don't get anywhere, even with mandatory negotiations, there will be a strike.

This whole process will take at least a month. So I lied when I said May is for strikes. It can just as well be June, or April, or September. Or whenever. But Norway revolves around May 1, and most unions release their new wage scales on that date, and the government sets the value for G on that same date.

G is short for "grunnbeløp" or base amount, from which things like social security payments, group life insurance payouts, and other benefits are calculated. I have a life insurance policy through my employer that pays out 5 G should I leave the planet before retirement. Minimum pension through social security in Norway is 2 G. I expect they'll announce what G for 2018 is later this week. For 2017, it's NOK 93.634. (That's not much what with our cost of living.)

I rejoined the union. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there's power, too. That's the point: A single voice doesn't carry the way a group of voices does. I've participated in political strikes (usually two hours of not working by leaving a couple of hours early) and an outright strike with standing in front of our employer's building holding signs and spending two weeks waiting to be told to go back to work.

Norwegian employers like unions. It's easier to talk sense to one party rather than hundreds. And often that's how it works out: Union reps get to participate in (some) management decisions and then turn around and explain the decisions to us workers. For the most part, it all goes smoothly. I think Norwegian management enjoys a high level of trust and loyalty. But union membership is going down. Many things unions had to fight for are now labor law so union membership isn't seen as a vital part of work life.

I think it is. I see (and feel) changes in the work place and government that are eroding workers' rights and we need watchdogs as well as understanding of what the changes are and why. Some are inevitable; some are just because someone's greedy (or stupid).

When I lost my job in 2014 due to downsizing, I had a lovely union rep who made sure all the legalities were in order as well as being great to talk to. So I had more than HR's equally lovely employee helping me out, which I really appreciated. So I'm staying a union member.

By the way, my union strikes so rarely that when we had our big two-week strike in 2006, many of us had never done that before. It wasn't just me who was clueless. We also didn't win.

I hope we do this year. Enough erosion!

Happy International Labor Day!

April is for taxes

Nothing is certain but death and taxes. And swear words. Back when I still lived in the US, my mother and I got window seats at Philippe's in downtown Los Angeles on the evening of April 15th, to watch people slowly driving by to toss their returns into huge hoppers on Alameda, which was one-way that night. I've also kept a Norwegian friend company on her walk to the tax return receptacle at 11 PM  on April 30. We noted as we turned to walk home that we weren't the last.

You may have seen there how I slipped Norway's deadline in. So I have been swearing in English at my Norwegian forms this morning because I own pretend money that the government wants to know about.

Yeah, I'm late. For some darn reason I've been putting this off this year. I've been putting everything off. Even breakfast. I'm doing taxes on coffee alone.

Every year I tell myself I need to learn more about the stock my employer gives me every spring for being a good little worker bee, because I'm running out of cuss words every April.

This year I kept getting hung up on the word "realisert". Same term in English: Realized gains. I knew I'd gotten another handful of stocks last spring but did not know how many or the emission date or the value (why do I not write these things down when they happen??? It happened again this year, and I wrote nothing down!) but I gained something, right?

Many of my cuss words were spent on looking for information I finally realized (HAH!) I didn't need.

Because I didn't sell any of my pretend money to get real money last year. I just got more pretend money.

So now the Certain Thing is signed, sealed and delivered, all electronically, and the little receipt thingy is sitting in my electronic inbox.

Now that that's over I can blog. And make breakfast.

And leave this post here so that maybe I'll remember during the rest of this year to pay attention so I'm not so lost next year.

Also: Led Zeppelin is awesome music to do death and taxes and other stuff to.

The Humanity Star

I read about this very bright object being shot up into orbit around Earth earlier this year, just to twinkle in natural sunlight as an artificial star for a few months. And I noted that it would be visible from Norway on April 24-25 2018.

I've had this date marked on my calendar since I read about the controversial launch of the Humanity Star. Although I understand the arguments against this bright object that the astronomers had, I thought I may as well take a look since it's up there. I read somewhere that it would be visible in my part of the world today or tomorrow.

First of all, it's overcast now and it will continue to be overcast the next couple of days. Never fails. I guarantee that if they announce some awesome celestial phenomenon visible from Bergen, the skies will not be clear. I pretty much treat forecasts for southerly viewings of the Aurora Borealis as forecasts for rain now. (In case you're wondering, auroras are a polar phenomenon that weaken the farther away from the poles you get—unless the aurora activity is very strong.)

Secondly, the Humanity Star website tells me that the thing reentered Earth's atmosphere and burned up in March.

Well, no matter. Did I mention it's overcast?

17th of May breakfast

The great national holiday in Norway, on May 17th, is a far more involved and formal event than the equivalent celebration in the US, on July 4th. There are also a lot of traditions and traditional food associated with the day. This year, I'm going to partake in a 17th of May breakfast in town.

In some ways, Constitution Day in Norway, is not exactly a Sunday or religious holiday. It's a day off but buses run on Saturday schedules and restaurants are open.

A bunch of us got Norwegian citizenship during 2017 and have decided to go All Norwegian the only way foreigners can. So we've decided to have the 17th of May breakfast buffet, which is a tradition. It includes rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge) and that's all I need to know (although cured meats and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs are also traditional fare).

Constitutional Day ribbons

Constitutional Day ribbons

I've booked a table that should also offer a fantastic view of the parade(s). There are three but we'll miss the early one that starts at 7 am. We'll catch the main one that leaves from Bryggen, and then we'll see the Children's parade that goes in the opposite direction and ends at Bryggen. Maybe we'll also catch the rowing race in the bay, too, before breakfast is over.

What a lot of Norwegians do is show up in their bunad (national costume) and line the streets for the parades. They may stay for a bit after the parades, but then they go home. A meal, maybe just chilling a bit, and then it's back out if you have kids. Schools have their own 17th of May activities that usually start around 3 pm. Parents march in the local parade with their kids. Afterwards, it's games and hot dogs and ice cream at the school. I remember that part from my own childhood here.

I never spent 17th of May in town as a child. We had our local school parade and school activities so no need (or opportunity) to go to town. I therefore didn't realize the day ends with fireworks until I was invited to watch one year. I am looking forward to seeing the fireworks again!

Hipp hipp hurra!

The Daily Prompt: Partake

Almost 950

When I read that Bergen was getting ready to celebrate 950 years in 2020, I suddenly felt old. I remember when this plaque was new: 

2017-04-08-15.04.51.jpg

Stones from all the counties of Norway were used to create this commemorative plaque for Bergen's 900th anniversary in 1970. The caption reads "1070 Bergen City 1970 / Norway's cities lay down these stones". (The number of cities has increased a lot since 1970.)

I-haul

When I see the word "haul" the American in me automatically puts a "U" in front of it. I haul, however, without a truck or trailer. I own no car, so life is about getting stuff home without one. Or getting stuff back out.

Hauling becomes a project as well as a test of wits and endurance. I am actually proud of myself for being able to haul a 27" iMac home on the bus, the wide, flat box with a brand-new and expensive machine securely strapped to a small, collapsible baggage trolley. The cashier at the Mac store couldn't get over how clever I was with four bungee cords and two wheels. I was rather happy I was impressing a young, handsome man.

The awesome plaid of my shopping cart

The awesome plaid of my shopping cart

I have a similar set-up for groceries: A proper granny-bag of a wheeled shopping cart, conservative blue tartan and all. It holds two large grocery bags of shopping, and makes hauling canned and bottled stuff so much easier on the arms. I supplement with a rucksack, and there's the weekly shopping taken care of. I call my wheeled wonder my car.

So that's how stuff makes it into my home. But then there's getting stuff back out. And that takes on the feel of a project.

For example, there are bins for receiving clothing around where I live, set out by the Salvation Army and one other charity, but they are just far enough away that my bags of clothing to donate need to be on wheels—especially if said bins are full or out of order.

And there is the old stereo that has been sitting in a closet because the display doesn't work and who plays cassettes or even CD's nowadays? Norwegian appliance stores will take your stuff for free, as per the law, and there is a recycling fee baked into the price we pay for our electronic stuff.

The speakers are big, the stereo itself is heavy and did I mention I have no car and it rains a lot where I live? So it's a project: Dig the stereo back out of the closet I so carefully (and I could have sworn, temporarily) stuffed it in, wrap it in big, black plastic bags, get it strapped with colorful bungees to the trolley and then go to my local appliance store's back door where the recycling bins are.

I know what to do. I just don't feel like hauling ass to do it.

The Daily Prompt: Haul

The frigid north?

Snow in Fyllingsdalen as seen from my living room

Snow in Fyllingsdalen as seen from my living room

A lot of people think I live in the frigid north. I don't, actually. Where I live, an umbrella is far more useful than a fur coat. Norway is more like Washington state than upstate Alaska. The sister cities of Bergen and Seattle both tend to be rainy, not snowy, in the winter. This winter, of course, decided to be an exception. Or maybe it's this spring that's acting up.

It snowed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Big, wet, fluffy flakes that covered the ground with a soggy white blanket that only children bound and determined to get some sledding done can enjoy. For the rest of us, the challenge is footwear and temperature. Regarding the latter, if it freezes, this pretty slush will become pretty dangerous to traffic. Regarding the former, rubber boots will keep one dry but they slip on wet snow, and leather boots with good soles will help you walk safely, but may get wet—or worse: Road salt will soak in (though waterproofing helps).

Such are the challenges of leaving in a part of the world that likes to flirt with freezing temperatures but never actually gets into a serious relationship with them. That is left to places like Oslo or Trondheim or Svalbard. Bergen is known for its rain and mild winters.

And outside a few flakes drift past my window—again.

The Daily Prompt: Frigid