greetings from sunny norway (literally). the sun sets about 10:30 at night here, and when it sets there is still the same amount of light as one would get around twilight. it’s truly very interesting, and surprising how well one sleeps despite this fact.
we had the day free today, and after sleeping for 13 hours, i got up and went for a run. after a hurried shower and a leisurely breakfast (i. love. norwegian. breakfast.), rylan and i walked around oslo to see what we could see and visit what we could visit. we went to the national gallery of art, saw the oslo city hall – for those of you who are unaware, the oslo city hall is where the nobel peace prize is awarded every year – and the waterfront, and walked through the norway WWII resistance museum. we then obtained phone cards and bought a little something for lunch before coming back to the hotel and getting on the bus for the konserthuset.
the concert itself was fantastic. we did a combined concert tonight, and all three ensembles were at their prime. the orchestra sounded especially fine, and both the orchestra and the choir had to do an encore because the audience wouldn’t stop applauding! the most incredible thing about tonight, however, was that the queen of norway was in the audience. and not in a box or in the balcony, either; she sat stage right of the center aisle, right in the middle of the house. she had a body guard on either side of her, of course, and there was a very obviously armed security person on either side of the floor, but she was still in the audience. a head of state, sitting in the audience with the common people. and that’s not the only thing: we all stood in the hallway after the concert, and instead of clearing the hallway (which we had to do for the president of the united states), she just walked right past us, thanked us for the marvelous concerts, wished us well on our tour, and shook mr. amundson’s hand. i stood 5 feet from the queen of norway. i’m still awestruck.
now, on to some general observations. because i haven’t seen much of norway yet, i shall talk to you in some length about oslo. oslo is the capital city of norway, and is definitely not the type of city one would imagine as being the seat of government for an entire nation. it is very compact, and very expensive (the most expensive city in the world, in fact), but at the same time very relaxed and very beautiful. there are trees and grass and large, expansive parks everywhere that are free and open to the public, including around the slottet (royal palace). in fact, one can quite plainly walk right up to within a few feet of the royal palace without encountering any blast barriers or fences or security checkpoints or anything. i cannot, however, say the same for the united states embassy; that entire building is surrounded with concrete blast barriers and 15-foot-high fences, and in order to enter it one must go through a special security booth which (i am told) includes being x-rayed, frisked, and having your bag searched. you don’t even need to go through passport control in the airport! it gives me hope for the rest of the world to see a country whose citizens don’t let themselves be ruled by fear.
another important thing: the water. the tap water is clean, clear, and good-tasting. no chlorination, no treatment whatsoever. i can fill my cup and take a drink, and the water tastes like it came out of my brita pitcher or a bottle. the same is true for the water at the harbor; there were no visible oil-slicks, and there was no stench of spilled fuel. another thing i noticed this morning was the air. i can also stand right outside the hotel and take a deep breath without coughing or feeling sick (although i did have some problems with a bit of diesel truck exhaust when i went for my run this morning). i couldn’t do that in new york or washington, and something i am leery about doing in minneapolis. from what i am told, norwegians are very, very protective of their natural resources and conscious of the effect they have on them. again, i’m glad to see that someone cares about how their actions will affect future generations.
in addition to being relaxed, oslo is also a fairly quiet city. there is the regular sound of the tram running past our hotel, but that is the loudest sound i have heard at night. on the whole, there’s about half the amount of traffic one would encounter in a U.S. city of the same size, and there is readily available public transportation, more than one would encounter in a U.S. city of the same size. oslo is less than a quarter of the size of new york, and it has a comparable public transit system.
one thing that isn’t cool is the concern those of us in the three flagship ensembles have for our personal belongings. oslo is a safe city in that one musn’t be afraid of being mugged or shot, but pickpocketing is a serious threat. one girl in the band had her purse taken today, and one must keep careful track of what one has on their person at all times.
anyway, that’s all i have for now. i’ll write more every day and post it every few days depending on whether or not i can find a cheap source of internet access. peace, and behave.