Hear ye, hear ye. It’s a new day. Yesterday I got back from Norway on Delta Airlines and can tell you all about Delta’s new service in economy class. It’s dazzling, it’s sparkling, it will blow your mind. Assuming you’re the kind of person whose mind is easily blown. Or just the kind of person who’s really into airline reviews. If not, I’m afraid there’s not much for you here. Some gnocchi with tomatoes and cheese. Prosciutto and melon. Etc. Etc.
Now, the unique thing about all this is that I actually flew Delta on the very LAST day of their OLD service, aka November 4th. On the WAY to Norway. And then on the way back, AKA yesterday, AKA the day before yesterday, AKA yesterday, I flew on an A330-300, seat 27G, with their NEW service. So I got to see both services, the old and the new, in a relatively short period of time. Which puts me in a unique position to compare and contrast them.
I loved the new service. That’s the short of it. The long of it is I loved pretty much every minute of it, from when they bring you the menu, to when they bring the new, BIG bottles of water, to when they bring the “peach bellinis” around (even though I don’t drink alcohol), up until the very end when they come around with baskets full of Toblerone(!). So, yes, in my opinion, the NEW service is an improvement. I talked at length to one of the flight attendants, and she said the flight attendants aren’t quite convinced. “Too much trash,” she said, and “Too much going on.” “What’d you think of the welcome cocktail?” she asked me. “Well, I don’t drink,” I said, “But I think it’s really cool you did that. Makes you feel like you’re at a resort.”
Sitting for nine hours on an airplane in economy is definitely not like being at a resort. It’s more like being incarcerated. But Delta’s new service does everything it can to make your experience better. Starting with distributing menus is a great touch. Makes you feel like you’re in first class. And I loved the big bottles of water, since I was dehydrated AB after a restless night of sleep in the Scandic Hotel Bergen. The appetizer was prosciutto and melon, and as a main I had the aforementioned gnocchi. The dude next to me, who was English and wearing Washington Redskins pajama bottoms and who, right before we landed, spent an extended period of time in the bathroom changing into jeans and cowboy boots, got the chicken, which also looked tasty. To top it off the dessert was Ben und Jerry’s salted caramel icecream. So, 9/10 on the food. 10/10 on the dessert. 10/10 on having a menu. 2/10 on my seatmate’s attire. And also 2/10 on Delta’s entertainment. Not super stoked on their movie selection. Though they do seem to have a lot movies featuring Rachel McAdams, which is nice, because I’m in love with her.
Shortly before landing the flight attendants came around again with “before landing service,” which left a little to be desired. There were basically pizza pockets (though at least mine was gruyere [?] and caramelized onion), and also a chocolate mousse. I would’ve preferred fruit, or something healthier than chocolate mousse. And I would’ve preferred basically anything to a pizza pocket. So, 5/10 on the breakfast/pre-landing service. 9/10 on them shoving Toblerones in our faces just before we landed. Chocolate actually does make you happier.
So, even though it’s not perfect, I still liked Delta’s new service substantially better than their old one. I remember very little about the old one, which says everything you need to know right there. But I remember almost everything about the new one, from the menu, to the improved bread roll, to the salted caramel ice cream, to the semi-bizarre pizza pocket. The flight attendants might not yet be sold, but I certainly am.
Everyone wants to know: What’s the best seat on the A330-300 in main economy class? Luckily, I flew Delta twice in the last couple weeks, and each time was on an A330-300, each time in main economy, each time a different seat. In short, I really got to evaluate the experience. And my judgements are swift snd fierce.
First, let me say that it appears Trip Advisor has either bought or acquired Seat Guru, which is awesome because it no longer looks like Seat Guru was designed and coded by a 13 year old. It actually looks nice now. Second, I’ll cut right to the chase: the best seat on the Airbus A330-300 for longhaul international flights, in my opinion but also not in my opinion because I only speak in facts, is 39G.
I’ll let that soak in for a moment.
Well, look at the seating chart:
As the tail of the plane becomes more narrow, the middle row on the A330-300 goes from four seats to three. This means! This means! What does this mean? This means that that the aisle seat on the first row of three seats has a gaping space to the right of it (or left if you’re on the other side) where the fourth seat would’ve been, and where you can, A) stretch out your legs, B) stretch out your arms, or C) keep and tend to a live hedgehog.
But the BEST part of this space? It means that people walking down the aisle, espcecially old people who are afraid they’re going to fall over at any moment and thus manhandle the seatbacks of, and the scalps of the people sitting in, every single aisle seat as they go teetering down the aisle, won’t do this with this seat. I’ve seen it in action. It’s beyond their reach. They grip the seatback of the aisle seats in row 38 and then fairly vault themselves to row 40 or 41, floating dangerously past row 39, skipping it entirely, and thus letting you rest placidly. This is the best part of this seat. And also the space. And also the fact that it’s not too close to the bathrooms. But also an aisle seat so you can get up and walk around whenever you please.
Honorable mentions for other good seats in main economy on the A330-300? Row 27 seats A, B, H and J have phenomenonal amounts of legroom, but don’t have windows (though who looks out the window on longhaul flights anyway?). Also 27 C and G are quite nice, as they’re bulkhead aisle seats, and not nearly as close to the bathrooms as Seat Guru might lead you to believe.
So there you have it. Now you can go about the rest of your day in peace. And next time you’re flying Delta longhaul from Seattle to Amsterdam (for example!) on an A330-300, you’ll know exactly what seat to pick.
You can’t really go wrong with Espresso House in Norway: it’s like a nicer, more tasteful version of Starbucks, with better food, nicer decor, better drinks, and an all around better atmosphere.
So, different in just about every way.
It’s not that I HATE Starbucks, it’s just that there are so many better places to go. I’ve heard the age-old argument for Starbucks: “Well, I like going to Starbucks because I know what I’m going to get.”
Huh, that’s weird. At Espresso House I ordered a croissant and they gave me a tank full of live mackeral. Weird. Should’ve gone to Starbucks.
I mean, I get what people are saying. Rather than risk getting shitty coffee at some cafe they don’t know, they get average coffee at Starbucks. Which seems to me about the most cowardly way it’s possible to go through life. A bird in the hand, right?
But what if that bird is dead?
My favorite thing at Espresso House are the croissants. They’re pillowy, fluffy, they pull apart into wide, delicate (yet somehow tough) strands, and they cost about as much as a down payment on a house. Espresso House isn’t cheap but Norway isn’t cheap. Espresso House makes up for this – slightly – by having breakfast and lunch specials. A croissant and any hot drink for 59 kroner, for example. Not as cheap as the US, but you could do a lot worse (and you probably do).
The food at Espresso House is also high notch. You know how at Starbucks everything feels like it was just made on a 3D printer in the back, like it’s not really food? At Espresso House it feels a little more like it just came out of the back garden. For example, I just got a bowl with black rice, feta, hummus, and cashews. Coupled with a golden latte as part of the lunch special, it came in at just under 10 bucks. How much would that have cost in Seattle? Probably about the same, actually.
My only critiques of Espresso House are things it can’t really help, i.e. the price and the fact that the feeling inside is always kind of the same. But the latter is also kind of a plus; I know it’s always going to be pretty awesome. That said, I’ll of course keep making forays into other cafes. Like Godt Brød, for instance, also a chain, also awesome, and also expensive as hell.
HELLO! I AM PETR! I AM POLISH MAN FROM LITTLE VILLAGE CALL PRESZYMYSL. BUT I AM LIVING NORWAY SINCE SIX YEARS. I TELL YOU ALL ABOUT NOW SO YOU ARE NAVIGATING WELL THIS COUNTRY.
NUMBER ONE: NORWAY IS CASHLESS SOCIETY! YOU ARE VERY STRANGE MAN WHEN YOU NOT PAY WITH KREDIT KORT.
NUMBER TWO: TRAM IS NOT FREE IN NORWAY. YOU GET ON BUT NOT PAY! YOU PAY POLICE LATER. IS NOT LIKE POLAND WHERE YOU PAY ON TRAIN. MAN COME AND CHECK TICKET AND YOU SAY “KORVA, NOW I LIVE IN STREET.” NORWAY IS NOT CHEAP COUNTRY.
NUMBER THREE: NORWAY IS NOT CHEAP COUNTRY. YOU PAY MANY KRONES FOR KAFFE. IS NOT EVEN GOOD KAFFE! NORWAY MAN DRINK INSTANT KAFFE, CALL IT KAFFE. KORVA.
NUMBER FOUR: DO NOT GO BERGEN WHEN YOU ARE WANTING THE FINE WEATHER. BERGEN NOT FINE WEATHER. BERGEN ONLY RAIN AND SAD. OSLO ALSO RAIN AND SAD BUT MORE SNOW AND LESS SAD. I OSLO MAN. I LIVE FROGNAR AND SPEAK NORWAY LANGUAGE LIKE, HOW YOU SAY…KORVA. LIKE NORWAY MAN I SPEAK!
NUMBER FIVE: NORWAY NOT ALL THIS, HOW YOU SAY, NORTH LIGHTS. LIGHTS IN SKY LIKE FIRE AT NIGHT. NO! YOU MUST GO NORTH NORWAY WHEN YOU ARE WANTING SEE THIS NORTH LIGHTS. BUT IS BEAUTIFUL! IS LIKE DRAGON IN SKY! MAKE SEX BENEATH NORTH LIGHTS, WOMAN HAVE MUCH LUCKY CHILDRENS.
NUMBER SIX: NORWAY MAN MAKE MORE FLAT SKI THAN SKI IN MOUNTAIN. NORWAY MAN MAKE NORDIC SKI. I AM NOT UNDERSTAND. POLAND WE SKI MOUNTAIN IN ZAKOPANE. IS BEAUTIFUL. IS GREAT MOUNTAIN. NORWAY MAN HAVE MOUNTAIN BUT PREFER SKI IN FIELD.
NUMBER SEVEN: IS NO HOMELESS MAN IN NORWAY. GOVERNMENT IN NORWAY GIVE HOMELESS MAN FREE HOUSE. HOMELESS MAN IN NORWAY RICH MAN IN POLAND. IS FEW KRONES NORWAY MANY POLISH ZLOTY. HOMELESS NORWAY MAN RICH.
NUMBER SEVEN: NORWAY FOOD BAD FOOD. ONLY FISH. POLAND MAN EAT ALSO FISH BUT ALSO MANY OTHER THING. POLAND MAN PAY LITTLE ZLOTY, EAT VERY HAPPY. NORWAY MAN EAT NO FOOD, PAY MANY KRONES. NORWAY MAN EAT PICKLE FISH.
I TELL YOU MORE TOMORROW. NOW I SMOKE CIGARETTE, DRINK NORWAY KAFFE. YOU ARE JOIN?
Whoever came up with the bumper sticker “If you’re bored, you’re boring,” I’d like to shake his hand. And then I’d like to twist that hand around his back and whisper in his ear, “Listen, fucktard. You fucked up an entire generation of kids who think it’s better to be on their phones, at least ‘doing something,’ than staring off into space. Now go run a half marathon.”
Or more accurately: “Get back in your Subaru (I’ve only ever seen this sticker on Subarus), and drive back to Denver.”
David Foster Wallace once said: “It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”
Remember the lobster. Remember when you were a kid and you were bored and it was so painful, but then the best ideas always came after that? And then remember today, 10 minutes ago, when you were bored for approximately 0.4 seconds, and rather than look this boredom in the face like the primate you are, you reached for your phone? And remember when you did that 15 minutes ago? And 20 minutes ago? And back and back, yesterday, the day before, the year before, essentially for your entire life? If you’re bored, you’re boring. Or, if you’re bored, you’re a genius. Or at least you have the potential to be. But not if you listen to that Coloradan rock climbing motherfucker, that scone eating, brunch getting, Teva-wearing shitbag, who still has fucking chalk on his hands from all the fucking stones he’s traipsed up, with his shitty-ass bumper sticker on his used, but not that used, Subaru.
We should all be bored, at least part of every day. Parents, you’ve made your bed, you have to lie in it — you don’t get to be bored as much. Too bad for you. Waa, waa. I still see you, even with the baby strapped to your god-damned sternum, your right hand reaching for an IPA, your left hand checking Twitter or your email, even though you checked it four minutes ago. You have a god-damned miracle strapped to your chest, the birds are chirping, the leaves are twitching ever so perceptibly, and you’re looking at your fucking phone. You’re also wearing some kind of hat from a fly fishing store, or one that says Patagonia, or O’Neill, or something else to do with surfing. Asshole.
I’m here today not to just say it’s ok to be bored, but that it’s essential. If you want your life to be anything other than checking Instagram, and scrolling, scrolling, from now until the end of time, you need to take a serious look at how you can fit a little more boredom into your corporate, oh so busy, I’ve got like six meetings today, shitface schedule. In fact, I have a call to action for you. Here’s what I want you to do. Put your phone in airplane mode for the rest of the day (ok fine, you miserable shit, the next four hours). Do this now. I will wait. I have nothing else to do. Now, during this time, and if you’re at work wait till you get home to do it, though I know you don’t do much actual work at work anyway, you’re not allowed to watch TV, or go on the computer, or even read. Good. Now, what’s that? What is happening? Did you just soil yourself? Yes, you did, because you just realized there’s a whole, beautiful world out there. And it’s just waiting for you. It’s just waiting for you to look at it. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to talk to anyone. You don’t have to go fucking hiking. You just have to sit there. And breathe. Inhale. Exhale. And look at it. Don’t do anything.
Now, this is the hard part, don’t go back to your phone. Not yet. Hopefully not ever. I want you good and bored. I want you falling asleep. Except don’t fall asleep, because that’s cheating.
“The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” ― Franz Kafka
You may think I’m a nut, and you certainly won’t heed my suggestions, but I’m telling you, they are critical to your survival as a non-automaton, and they’re critical to this planet’s survival. So in closing I’d like to offer my own bumper sticker:
I boarded this train thinking, Well, why not? Let’s go check out this Norwegian capital! I had no idea it would be such a nice train ride. The mountains really were spectacular, and I couldn’t believe all the streams with their cute icicles. It was dazzling! I did get a little tired though. I hadn’t slept well the night before. Oh well, I guess jetlag will do that to you! And I assumed I would sleep on the train but the guy next to me kept snoring. I wanted to walk over to him and say, “Hey! Buddy! Pipe down!” Lol.
The ride really started to get nice once we left the fjordland. I mean I like fjords as much as the next gal, but it actually looked similar to where I grew up in Duluth, if you can believe that. But the high mountain plains, those really took my breath away. And then in this one place called Finse we were even allowed to get off the train and take pictures! It was quite the winter wonderland. And then when I got back on, there was the guy next to me, still snoring! I wanted to go up to him and give him a little slap across the face.
About halfway through the train ride we came to some really nice towns next to a river. I thought, Gee, I wish I’d booked a night in one of these towns, I bet I’d get to see the real Norway! But maybe another trip, I guess. It was all so cozy as the light from the day began to dim, and the lights from all the little cottages came into view. And then I went into the dining car! The girl working there was wonderful! She even taught me how to say, “Can I have a black tea?” in Norwegian! Kan jeg få en svart te? It was a really great experience. It almost made me forget all about the snoring man next to me. When I got back there he was! Still sawing logs! Made me want to go up to him and stick my fingers in his nostrils, and then when he woke up give him a swift boot to the crotch while saying, in a Russian accent, “You work for me now.”
Finally we descended into the fjordlands surrounding Oslo. I got out my cellphone, just to make sure I knew how to get to the hotel. Don’t want to get lost on a November night in Scandinavia! Brrr! It looked like it wasn’t far though. A couple kilometers, and I was sure there would be taxis. Now that I’m getting the hang of the smart phone my kids got me for my birthday I figured I might even be able to take an Uber! Who says you can’t teach an old Christian gal like myself new tricks? I sat in my seat thinking of what I would do in Oslo. Oh, how I wanted to see the Edvard Munch museum. And I’d heard they had some really great cafes. I was so lost in my daydream that I started drifting off to sleep, and just as I did, what do you know, the guy to my right started snoring again! He’d been silent for 10 minutes straight, and just as I’m about to sleep he starts snoring. I chuckled a bit but to tell you the truth I was a bit ticked. Part of me wanted to go across the aisle, sneak up behind him like a snow leopard, and then gauge his eyes out with the wooden cutlery from the dining car, all the while whispering, “I am the devil. I am the devil,” and then get him in a choke hold and then, when he’d stopped struggling, dump his lifeless body at the next stop.
But instead I just sighed. I really do love train rides!
Like so many culs-de-sac in a row I finally board the train leaving for Oslo at 11:59am. The train leaves a minute early, which I find disconcerting. If you arrived at 11:58am you’d find the train just pulling away, and think of the despair you’d feel. But as they say you can’t shear the same sheep twice, so I settle into my seat, which isn’t actually my seat at all because my actual seat had a female in the seat next to it and I wanted a row all to myself.
Sort of a Yo Yo Ma kind of thing, although I’m not a cello player. Wish I was, but I’m not. I play the piano decently. I really like Chopin’s “Nocturnes,” (quotes his).
There is snow on the ground almost immediately upon leaving “Bergen” as we head further “inland.” I feel like a hippopotamus stuck in a wave pool, as they say, I don’t really know what to do with all the time. There’s a Chelsea football match that starts at 13:30 and if the WiFi is gut enough I’ll watch that, and if it’s not I’ll probably pop a snus in and start screaming at people.
I set out to explore my surroundings, like a decrepit Meriwether Lewis. In the dining car a cute girl with bleached blond hair sells me an English Breakfast “tea” for 34 kroner, or, USD $64.
“Like feeding bamboo to a panda, what?” I say to her.
“Sorry?” she says.
“Sorry, just an old military expression.”
“Is that where you lost your leg? In the war?”
I look down and indeed one of my legs is missing.
“No, it’s just asleep,” I say.
And then I wake up, and realize I’m still in my car, and someone is saying to me, “Sir, sir, you’re in my seat.”
So I move and they turn around.
“Sir, sir, you’re still in my seat.”
And then I wake up from THIS dream and realize ok, here I am, in car 6 seat 21, king’s gravy, what?
I buy another tea and this time it only costs 16 krone. Maybe if I buy another it will be 8, and then 4, and then 2, etc etc, until I’m cutting up kroner with a hacksaw.
The train stops in Voss and too many people get on. But I’m in the “lounge car,” or the “cafe car,” or whatever you want to call it. My tea is steeping and soon it will be a thick sludge of English Breakfast and honey and thwarted desire.
“What are you reading?” I say to the cafe girl when I get my tea refill.
She pouts. “I don’t know how to read. In Norway they don’t teach us.”
“Ouch,” I say, “Double-edged bread knife, that one, what?”
“Will you teach me to read?” Her eyes brighten.
“I can teach you to read Spanish,” I say. “Lost part of my hippocampus in the war. Can’t teach English no more.”
This strikes her as plausible, though to be fair she kind of zoned out after the word “I.”
After Voss the countryside completely opens up, and it reminds me of my days in the Sahara, albeit colder and greener and with more houses and vegetation and a fair amount of lakes and fjords. Language is the same though. Go inland far enough and all of the Norwegian, explicably, start speaking Berber. I wonder if this is golf country. I bet the cafe girl knows but I don’t want to bug her, so engrossed is she in looking at the pages of her book. You’ve got it upside down, I want to say to her, but fear it might make her feel bad. Would love to get my nine iron out.
What was my last night in Bergen like? It was like running on a treadmill and realizing you can’t turn it off. And if you step off there’s a good chance you’ll fall. I couldn’t sleep, that was the problem. Too much caffeine in the evening, and too much napping the day before. I nap like a Portuguese water dog, but without all the hip problems. Give me a nice flat surface and I’ll take a nap on it. In the war they called me “Count von Dreckens,” though not because of the napping. Actually in retrospect I’m not sure why they called me that.
It was a long war.
This is snowy, snowy country we’re traversing, and I didn’t bring my snow shoes, if you catch my drift. We stop in Udland because there’s a train coming in the opposite direction, though this could be all posturing, some kind of train conducter dick-swinging contest. Suddenly I have this strange feeling, it washes over me like a water cooler full of Gatorade, that I should be drinking green instead of black tea. I go to the cafe girl and say, “Excuse me, but this is a black tea.”
She looks confused.
“Didn’t you order a black tea?”
What follows is about a 30-second standoff where we look at each other, unblinking.
Finally she says, “Did you want green tea?”
Amazing, this cafe girl. She can’t read books but she can read my cerebellum as if it were tattooed on my sternum.
I get my third black tea in a row. The price does not go down to eight kroner, which makes me what to throw a tantrum. But instead of throwing a tantrum I retreat to my seat, where I continue to gaze at the snow-covered steppes.
I walked back to my AirBnb where I fell into a deep sleep listening to Leo at actualized.org. It’s not often I listen to Leo anymore. I used to all the time. But I wanted to know what “duality” is and knew he had a video on it.
Within 10 minutes I was profoundly asleep.
And somehow slept through my alarm. Did I turn it off in my sleep? This shall remain a mystery. Either way I slowly got up, hauled myself to the light rail, and rode it all the way to the end. There, in the center, I was accosted by a guy named Matias who called himself a monk. He was trying to sell me a copy of the Baghavad Gita.
I said, “I totally wanna read that. I just wanna read the Stephen Mitchell translation.”
“But this one has the original Sanskrit.”
“Matias, I don’t speak Sanskrit.”
After talking to this brother in spiritual arms I headed to Espresso House, where I ordered a latte and a scone, which cost something absurd like nine US dollars. If you’re going to Norway prepare to start leaking money. The first time I came in 2012 that was essentially why I left. And that might be why I’m already planning to leave on this trip, too.
I don’t want to leak money. I want to leak amor.
At Espressssso House I found a table in the corner covered with dirty plates and cups and posted up. I wanted to see what the scholars had to say about this whole, “Is life worth living” thing, so I looked for some more articles. There was one from Huff Post and one from JSTOR from 1895. And then of course a lot of personal accounts from people dealing with depression. But I’m looking for a more scientific approach. Yes, of course I FEEL like life is worth living. I feel this profoundly. And of course it could never be proven empirically that life is worth living, but I still wanted to see what learned people had to say on the matter.
Mostly there was a dude on Quora who said we’re all just “lumps of meat.” His answer was, “No.”
I took a sip of my latte.
Then I did something weird. I got up and put honey and cinnamon in my latte. The taste and smell of milk were overpowering. This is probably why the average height of Norwegian men is like eight feet tall. Bergen is like walking through a city full of Preying Mantises. They grow ’em tall in Norway. I’m like a Gremlin here.
OK, so I know I have to get a job. That much we’ve worked out so far today. Thanks, guys. I could always count on you. Next the question becomes, What job? Indeed. Tricky question. You see because I don’t what to be a Spanish interpreter anymore. I don’t want to be a Spanish teacher. But I do want to do fulfilling work.
Of course the thing I actually want to do is be a writer.
Then there comes the question of love. I already have many platonic relationships in my life. And these are great. But I’m looking to get decidedly unplatonic, and this is where I run into road blocks. I’ve tried OkCupid and Tinder and Bumble. O don’t particularly like them. But maybe they’re a necessary evil? No, I refuse to believe that. Subtract the word “necessary.”
Subtract the word evil. And all you’re left with is a breath of air.
Nighttime in Bergen and the day has flown by. After espresso house I took a walk, letting the caffeine course through my veins, enjoying the city. I walked past Cafe Opera and it looked completely different from yesterday. It somehow seemed more elegant, more serious. Then I went back to the library. I love libraries. At home I have three library cards for three different systems. At the Bergen library I read a short story by Roald Dahl, and then a book called Introduction to Zen or something like that. I still don’t really know what Zen is. Apparently it’s not something you can really define; it’s only an experience you can have.
After the library I decided to go buck wild and got two cheeseburgers from Burger King. And then I got a smoothie from the grocery store. And then I rode the light rail back to my AirBnb, not paying. I am a criminal. At any moment the Norwegian constabulary will be beating down my door, then throwing the cuffs on, then condemning me to a life of darkness, rain, and strange cheese.
Back at my AirBnb I felt 43% welcome. I retreated to my room where I began watching an Eckhart Tolle video with binaural audio. The soothing voice of Eckhart Tolle. I’m convinced he’s actually a guy from Cincinnati who just speaks with a German accent. You never hear him speaking German. He does speak Spanish, because he spent his high school years in Spain.
Now it’s time to seize the night. But first a glass of water.
In Amsterdam I start to feel tired, but I can’t sleep. I solve the problem by getting a “sausage roll,” which is basically a croissant with a sausage in it. Despite the fatigue the layover goes fast, and suddenly I find myself boarding the flight to Bergen. I have no idea how long this flight takes. I imagine no more than an hour. There’s a child in front of me essentially screaming, and I can’t figure out which language he’s speaking. It sounds like Italian but could also be Romanian. In my addled state it might even be Dravidian.
The plane is small and I have a row to myself. I had a coffee in the Amsterdam airport, and I swore to myself I wouldn’t have any coffee to ward off jet lag, but now it seems like the only solution. Black tea just wasn’t cutting it. And it does work a bit. I also took some 5-HTP, which I at least partially credit for my better mental health as of late. 5-HTP apparently helps with your seratonin levels. And seratonin makes you feel good.
A guy gets up and goes to the bathroom just as we’re about to start taxiing. The flight attendant is not stoked. I’m not stoked either, because he’s flouting the rules. Should I get another coffee on this flight? That might push me into the realm of insanity. Better to stick with black tea.
Soon the plane has taken off and we’re cruising over some kind of sea. It’s supposed to be an hour and 26 minute flight. It’s just occured to me I don’t know which apartment to buzz when I finally get to my destination in Bergen. Maybe it’s not an apartment at all but a house? Ideally I get to the apartment/house, take a short nap, get up and walk around the city a bit, watch the Ajax Chelsea game tonight at nine, then wake up tomorrow at 7:30am, right on schedule. In the Amsterdam airport I did indeed book the train to Oslo. Which means after four nights in Bergen I’m going to Oslo. And from there probably on to Sweden. It’s all a bit unclear at this point, and I’m fine with that. I like to keep my options open. Ideally I wouldn’t even book a train to Oslo, but the longer you wait the more expensive things get. So I took the plunge.
What will Bergen be like? Apparently it’s a lot like Poulsbo, the small city near where I grew up. I imagine it’s a bit more striking though. Just a touch. When I think of Poulsbo I think of car dealerships and maybe a decent bakery or two. When I think of Bergen I think of fjordland majesty. But places almost always lose their mystique once you get to them. Or rather, the real version isn’t the fantasy you dreamed up in your head. Better to have no expectations.
At this point I haven’t slept in probably 20 hours.
Bergen so far reminds me a lot of BC. A mix of Victoria and British Columbia, with everyone speaking a different language and the buildings a bit more European. I even see shades of Port Angeles.
My AirBnb host is Panamanian, which means we’ve been speaking Spanish the whole time. Her English is pretty good, but my Spanish is better. I took the light rail into Bergen from the airport, whicn cost about four dollars and comes every five minutes. It leaves right from the airport. It couldn’t be easier. Then when I got to my AirBnb I expired the space a bit, but the only thing I really wanted to do was lie on the bed and talk to people on WhatsApp and watch YouTube videos. Is it possible this trip was a huge mistake? I feel like it was, but at the same time have this deep-seated feeling that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, like I’m supposed to be making this mistake. Either way that’s the attitude I want to have with everything. No mistakes. Sort of a Bob Ross mentality.
It’s 4:45pm and it’s almost dark in Bergen. After getting settled in the Airbnb I forced myself to hit the town. To go in search of Knausgaard. First stop, the place he talks nonstop about in Book 5: Cafe Opera.
It’s amazing to go to a place in real life that existed so intricately in your head. I thought Cafe Opera was two floors. I thought it was always bustling. I thought it was kind of huge.
It turns out it’s on the ground floor, and it’s not that bustling, at least on a random Tuesday afternoon. It’s also a lot smaller than I expected. There are probably only 18 tables. The experience so far is the definition of unremarkable, except for the mozzarella red pesto toasties, which were much better than expected. It is not the places then, but the people we meet there, the experiences we have there. And so this place basically means nothing to me. It’s just a cafe in Norway. Sure, Karl Over Knausgaard, one of the most famous authors of recent years, used to come here all the time. But what did I expect? A hunched over Knausgaard in his 20s, sitting at a table in the corner, drinking a coffee and scribbling furiously in his notebook? I dare say I did. I think a little part of me expected to live an experience exactly like what he described in his book.
It’s also hard to get a feeling for anything, indeed to feel normal, when you’re so jet-lagged. I’m jet-lagged as shit. But it’s also good that I’ve slept so little, because that means it’ll be easier to get on a normal schedule tonight. Obviously I have to watch the Ajax Chelsea game tonight. Other than that I have nothing ony agenda. Tomorrow: more walking.
“I’m sooooooo tired, I haven’t slept a wink.”
In a wild turn of events the following things have happened: 1) I’ve actually gotten on a schedule; I woke up at 7:30am this morning even though every millimeter of me wanted to go back to bed; 2) I still haven’t had coffee even though normally in these situations I go down a brief rabbit hole of coffee and despair before finally righting the ship (the day’s not over yet); 3) My Airbnb host and I have gone BACK to speaking English despite my assertion that my Spanish is far superior to her English, though to be fair I think she speaks English constantly with her husband when he’s around (which might be never because he “works at sea”). This last one I actually find a bit disconcerting. Part of me wants to strongarm her into speaking Spanish, and another part says, “Bro, does it really matter? Just be secure in your language abilities.” One thing that’s a little different from other hosts so far is between her and her uncle, who’s visiting her, someone is ALWAYS here. I’d love to have the place to myself a bit. But so far that hasn’t happened. I don’t think her uncle has left the apartment yet. He doesn’t speak English and he definitely doesn’t speak Norwegian.
Upon leaving the house I walk around and probably walk at least two miles. My feet start to hurt. My back starts to hurt. This is weakness leaving the body. During the walk I have a bit of an existential crisis. Just a tiny one. I think the whole not working thing is really getting to me, or affects me far more than I let on. I don’t need to work right now because I “came into some money” two Junes ago. So if I do work right now it would not be so much for the money but for the sense of well-being it provides, the sense of contribution, the sense of fitting in somewhere in the community. I am in a unique position right now where I’m able to sort of examine things from outside. I see people with their heads down, headed to work every morning with such purpose, and in a way it seems so contrived. And yet of course it’s not. When a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter we don’t consider it contrived. But what if all the sudden the squirrel didn’t have to gather nuts? What if they were all provided for her? Would she be stoked? Or would she become listless, roaming the streets, the parks, going from cafe to cafe, questioning the worth of it all? Would she start reading Karl Over Knausgaard?
The thing is, I started to have these sort of existential questions even when I was working. It all started probably five or so years ago. I remember when I was walking the Camino de Santiago I would often fall asleep with the Tao Te Ching playing. You see, if life is worth living, and I don’t know if that’s a question in itself worth asking, if that question even makes sense (is it kind of like saying, “Is the color red worth being red?”) then it then follows that you should do everything in your power to live well. And neuroscientists have actually broken down what it means to live well. It means doing well in the following three categories: love, work and play. It doesn’t mean focusing on this nebulous concept of “happiness.” Never focus on happiness. Happiness is bullshit. Most people widly confuse happiness with excitement. But a deep sense of peace, of contentment, which is what you should really be striving for, can’t be striven for. Instead you focus on doing well in the aforementioned three categories. At least according to this article.
So look, I’m trying not to get too deep or dramatic on you, but I think it’s good to ask these kinds of questions, at least once in your life. First you ask, “Is life worth living?” and then you either say yes or no or that question is stupid. If you decide either the first one or the third one then you ask, “OK, how do I live well?” And then you take the steps to do that.
Not to toot my own baritone, but I’m pretty well prepared for this trip. Consider exhibits A-F:
A) slip on shoes. A must for moving about the cabin and then getting back to your seat, taking your shoes off, and tucking in, like a young willow ptarmigan, to a rom com.
B) a book. In this case the The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu. Like the Tao Te Ching but with wonderful bits of irony. Makes fun of people who meditate. I meditate.
C) proper travel adapter. Cuz you gotta charge that phone.
D) Charles Schwab debit card. Get reimbursed for ATM fees all over the world.
E) layers. You don’t need a big parka for Scandinavia in November. You just need lots of layers.
F) An aisle seat. Because I like to get up to pee a lot, and also to hang out in the back of the plane, drink water, stretch my legs. And I don’t want to have to bug someone every time I do that.
There are other critical elements. An extra debit card, a credit card, a travel notice pre-set on my debit card, lodging for the first four nights already arranged. What a departure from my younger days, when I used to just show up at a given destination with zero plan at all. Lao Tzu said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” I know what he means by that. A good traveler takes delays in stride, uses them to his advantage. Say the plane is somehow delayed in Amsterdam. A good traveler uses the opportunity to sample some Dutch cuisine. The General would probably use it to roam the airport looking for women to talk to. The General is an insanely good traveler. I’ve never seen someone so patient, so eternally non-plussed.
Speaking of The General, I met him on the 9:40am ferry this morning. Ahhhh, the 9:40am ferry. Is there any better ferry? The traffic of the commuters is gone. The day is awake and bright. And it’s still early enough that you have the whole day in front of you. I think it might be my favorite ferry to take into Seattle.
We ply the waters of Puget Sound and the ferry is preternaturally quiet. People are lying down in the booths. There’s a slight din coming from two booths of travelers to my left. The odd outburst of laughter. This morning I got up at 7:30am and had two cups of black tea and some toast. Then, right before I left, I had some more toast, this time with butter and honey. One of my favorite foods. Black tea, toast with butter and honey. I finished packing, which mostly consisted of organizing all my shit from this weekend, surfboards, wetsuits, a tent that was still damp from the dew of La Push. Last night I went to Rite Aid to check out their noise-cancelling headphones, but they cost 50 bucks and supposedly aren’t that good. I’m going to make one last ditch effort at Bartell’s in Seattle, and then get on the light rail. Maybe a cheeky tea from Uwajimaya?
Not enough time.
The waters of Puget Sound are smooth and grey. A girl talks loudly on her cellphone and I look over and realize she was in my class in high school. I know her name but never really talked to her. The General is strangely quiet. He hasn’t said anything all ferry ride. I know he’s excited for the flight, though, and even for Norway, even though he calls the country “ass-backwards.” He means it in an endearing way, though. Norway is basically Sweden.
Last night I also revisited Book 5 of My Struggle a bit. Every time a place was mentioned I looked it up on my phone to see if I could find it. I’m going to be walking around the city a lot. Lots of cafes. Lots of writing. Lots of sitting by the water. Maybe a foray into nature. Lots of grocery stores. Lots of eating out at cheap places. And hopefully lots of meeting people. But how do you meet people? Especially when you don’t stay in hostels. I don’t really know. But I just have this feeling I will.
It’s like the other day when I was at Westport. If I feel pretty good about myself, at peace, then I tend to meet people. This guy named Rob came up to me and started talking to me. I think he thought I was some hot shot surfer.
“Rob,” I wanted to say, “I’m not good.”
But when I told him I’d surfed in New Zealand and Costa Rica and France and that I’d just gotten back from a surf trip to Mexico, he assumed I was a ripper. I didn’t really set him straight. I just enjoyed the conversation and his inquisitiveness. When he found out I like to write he said, “Ahhh, so the real passion comes out.” He urged me to continue writing. Sometimes it’s nice to have these moments of reinforcement.
We’re getting into Seattle now. The city is upon us. That ferry ride flew by. Now it’s time to get off and walk.
Seatac International Airport. The S gates. A hot English breakfast tea with half and half and, an unexpected addition, raw acacia honey. Things are looking good. The flight doesn’t look that full, though it’s always hard to tell. I’m sitting at a different gate because most people feel the need to sit at their actual plane’s gate, which means it gets super crowded, when two gates down it’s completely empty. Philistines! I will never understand people. What tranquility prevails at gate S4, where I’m currently seated, and what chaos everywhere else.
I got my tea from Peet’s, which is kind of like a crappy version of Starbucks, which in itself is already pretty crappy. But it was cheap for an airport and the woman working there seemed kind. There’s a dude who looks Mexican walking around barking something in Japanese. The flight to Tokyo is just about to leave. It looked crowded. The enzymes from the acacia honey have just kicked in, instantly elevating my immune system to that of a snow leopard. Outside it’s sunny and it’s supposed to be sunny when I get to Bergen, too. I don’t know what I’m going to do the whole flight. I should probably buy some kind of novel. And I definitely should’ve gotten some decent headphones. But whatever, I’m pretty good at killing time. I’ll go to the bathroom multiple times, drink as much black tea as my organism allows provided they have black tea, and probably watch a couple terrible movies. Apparently Delta Basic Economy does include meals on longhaul international flights. This is definitely longhaul. And if you count The Netherlands as a country, it’s definitely international.
OK, nevermind, the flight looks crowded as all hell. Is it crowded? It’s so hard to tell with these large planes. We’re flying on an Airbus A330-300, 2-4-2, configuration. I’m flying in Delta One, where I’ll have a lie-flat bed, gourmet cuisine, and someone doting on me at all times. Oh, but I kid. I’m flying Basic Economy. I’m in the trenches. They might make me spend half the flight in the bathroom. They might make me go down below in a dog crate. The General is flying Delta One though of course. Hopefully I don’t have to walk by him when I board. I know he’ll try to trip me.
Speaking of The General, it’s about time to board, which means it’s time for one more bathroom break and then communing with the cognitive gods. Wait, am I going to Europe?
I’m going to Europe!
Jackpot. Delta flight 142, you are kind to me. Ladies and gentleman we have reached our cruising altitude of 600,000 feet. Shortly we will be passing the moons of Jupiter and then making a brief pit stop on Neptune for snacks and stretching. Until then if we can do anything to make your flight more comfortable, don’t hesitate to let us know.
I’m on movie number two, which is About Time starring that English guy you’d recognize and also Rachel McAdams. I must say: I’m in love with Rachel McAdams. Like, actually in love. Which is a shame because, as far as I know, she doesn’t know who I am. I think she might also be betrothed, which is a real hiccup in our budding romance. Rachel McAdams is one of those people I’d marry without ever talking to. I assume we all have one or two these.
Things are peachy at the back of the plane. We just had dinner. I’m listening to meditation music and The General has come back to pay me a visit. Dinner was “chicken or pasta,” and I’m very glad I chose pasta. The pasta was delicious. I love airplane food. I have no idea why. But I love it. We also had a small salad, cheese and crackers, a bread roll with butter, and the coup de grace, a chocolate chip brownie. Then there were the multiple cups of black tea, one of which tasted suspiciously like coffee. My seat mate sounds like he might be Dutch. He’s currently sleeping. I’m loath to look at the flight map, but I imagine we’re somewhere over Baffin Island right now. Possibly Elsemere. It’s dark outside. It’s 1:40am in Amsterdam right now. The inflight wifi is working which means I can text friends on WhatsApp till my heart’s content. Though my heart is already pretty content. I’m going to Europe. I’m going to Norway. And right now, at this moment, I have the whole damn armrest to myself.
I am a sheikh.
I’m impressed by the guy sleeping next to me. How do you just pass out in the middle of the afternoon. I probably won’t be able to sleep on this flight because in Seattle it’s the middle of the day. I’m not bad at sleeping on flights, I just have to be tired. And I’m not tired in the least right now.
In the back of the plane there is an unlimited supply of Cheese-Its, cookies, Kit Kat bars, and water. The Cheese-Its are the only thing I can eat because they don’t have sugar. On my diet I’m not allowed to have sugar unless it’s offered to me, like when my mother asked if I wanted a cookie yesterday. This might sound like a weird system but actually it works perfectly. When I go into a grocery store I’m not allowed to buy anything with refined sugar in it. But if I’m in a social situation and someone says, “Should we get dessert?” I’m allowed to scream, “Hell yes!” We all have to find our own system when it comes to dieting. This is the one that works for me. I imagine it’s like this in all aspects of life. It’s called getting older.
If I could travel back in time right now to fix a wrong, or live a situation differently, what would I do? Well, I would probably relive all of my breakups (wouldn’t that be fun), and try to handle them in a more mature, healthy way. I’d avoid saying certain things that you can’t unsay. But mostly I’d just enjoy the shit out of certain moments. Isn’t it ironic that being able to travel back in time might just make you better at living in the present?
This is about the end of blogging for today. There’s not a whole lot to report. I’m sitting on a plane. I have to sit on it for about another six and a half hours. And then I get to get off the plane and go through Schengen Area customs, and then get on another flight to Norway.
This guy is hogging the shit out of this armrest.
Hey Jude plays in my headphones because I’ve just finished watching the movie Yesterday. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. But of course I almost cried. Of course I fell in love with the main actress, and the main actor for that matter. I thought I was done writing for the night but sometimes you just have to take out your phone, open up the notepad, and let those fingers flutter. The flight has gone by fast so far. They’ve been feeding us as if we were geese getting fattened up for fois gras. The flight attendants have been wonderful. A constant stream of black tea as well. I’ve watched three movies so far. We have less than three hours to go in this flight. Are longhaul flights actually really easy? I’d say I’ve just jinxed it but I know that would be a lie. Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Bergen, Bergen, Bergen. A room in a flat on Danmarksplass, near where Karl Ove used to live. And tomorrow I check in and walk straight to the cafe he used to frequent, Cafe Opera. I’m trying to follow, almost literally, in his footsteps.
The General just came back to say hi.
“Mate, have you seen these Jason Bourne movies?”
“General, those are like 10 years old.”
“Fuck off. Seriously?”
“Yeah man. Those came out awhile ago.”
“Fuck me,” he says, and trails off. “How you holding up back here?”
“I’m good. How’s Business Class.”
“”S’alright. Can’t sleep. Been watching these Bourne movies. Makes me want to get a bunch of passports and just fuck off.”
I open my mouth to say something but he’s spotted something at the back of the plane and a minute later I hear a cackle from the flight attendant and one of The General’s trademark chortles.
“What are you doing back here in coach?” I hear the flight attendant say.
I can’t make out what The General replies but she laughs again.
So, I did end up booking a place for Friday night. It’s a hotel called Zander K. What a name. It’s right by the train station. Breakfast included. Looks chic. If there was wifi on this flight I might book my train to Oslo. I’m thinking of going to Sweden now, since I’ve never really been there. I went there once in 2012 but only spent one night in Stockholm. I also spent a few nights in Åland, which is basically Swedish, but it’s actually part of Finland. But everyone there speaks Swedish. I met a girl named Emma there who spoke flawless Finnish, Swedish, English, and I think German, and of course fell hopelessly in love. I remedied the situation by doing calisthenics in the hotel room.
My back is a little sore from sitting so long. In a little bit they should be along to serve us breakfast. If there is breakfast. I almost hope there isn’t, but actually definitely hope there is because it will be a nice distraction to make the time go by faster. I’ve switched to classical music. Right before leaving on this trip I sat down to play one last Chopin Nocturne. Chopin coming into my life over the past two years has been a blessing. I’m definitely one of those old cranks who thinks the best music was written a couple hundred years ago.
Right then, we’re just passing Iceland. When I post this it means I’m in the Amsterdam airport waiting for my flight to Bergen. When I post this it probably means I’m tired as shit because it’ll be bedtime in Seattle. When I post this it means I’ll be on European soil. Or at least European tile. Or possibly carpet.