• Sarah Royal

Norway, a dash of Portugal, and the EAST COAST.

A month and a half for the final chapter of Sarah Royal Travels the World & Writes About It isn’t too bad, I’d say. Currently snowed in from the not-as-big-as-it-was-supposed-to-be East Coast storm, now’s a great time to sum things up. I finally said goodbye to Southern California and the West Coast for a decidedly long period of time, and made an extremely brief trip (less than ten hours) back to NJ, where I saw my folks, swapped my summer clothes for winter ones, and hopped a plane to Oslo, Norway, to visit my college friend who had moved there some months back. Oslo was small and beautiful, with about six hours of sunlight per day and the entire city classily decorated for the Christmas season. It took a bit of getting used to the fact that I was in Europe, rather than the quite dissimilar continents I’d been traveling in of late. I spent the days when my friend was at work wandering around town getting mistaken for being Norwegian every chance I got. Everyone there speaks better English than any American I know, of course, but sometimes they’d accidentally lapse back into Norwegian again while talking to me. It was, as you might guess, decidedly the opposite of my experience in India. I almost felt guilty for not knowing Norwegian, it just seemed that much like I should… what with being blonde and white and all.

Oslo was chilly, but there was no snow yet. It was nice to see my breath again, and a fantastic environment to prepare for Christmas time in New York. In wandering around, I ended up learning things about Norway that I already knew about but just didn’t know they were Norwegian. For example: those navy sweaters with the stripe of white reindeer and snowflakes on it (I could glean that they were from a cold climate, but just didn’t know which one), Disney’s Frozen takes place there, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded there (and was awarded when I was there), Edvard Munch’s The Scream painting is Norwegian and actually in Oslo, and brown cheese is everyone’s breakfast. Brown cheese is this block of caramel-like cheese that I first consumed in Portland, Oregon when my first roommate there, a butcher, was using it on cheeseburgers at my house. I was instantly obsessed, and knew it was one of those things that people either love or hate – there’s very little opinion in between. My friend, upon my arrival in Norway, told me, “You have to eat this brown cheese that is such a Norwegian thing – it’s amazing,” and it of course turned out to be the same. I brought back so many blocks of it I got flagged in the airport.

Of course, one thing I recently learned was Norwegian was the vessel the Gjøa, as mentioned in my last blog post. The Gjøa was the first ship to sail through the Northwest passage, captained by Roald Amundsen (who also discovered the South Pole and planted a Norwegian flag there), and the name of one of my sailboats paying it homage when I was in Mexico. We headed over to the Fram museum to check it out, and it was in superb condition. (Polar bear for scale.)

We ate great late-night food, I joined my friend at a work party dinner (though it wasn’t their Christmas work party “Julebord” where everyone goes insane and gets shit-faced), I bought a Christmas sweatshirt that looked like Santa’s coat, we watched a stellar live band play jazzy blues, we turned a quiet coffee shop into a dance hall filled with 1990’s R&B radio hits, and I wished it had been snowing so everyone would be Nordic skiing in the streets. Oslo is apparently big on statues, too, so I laughed a lot at people taking photos of the dirty ones and not really taking photos of any of the others.

My better part of the week frolicking in Scandinavia ended much too soon, and I had one more country to hit up – super briefly – before heading back to the states: Portugal. When booking my Oslo ticket, I had to have a layover of some sort on the way back. A few hours in London, a few in Paris, or an overnight in Lisbon where my college roommate lives were my choices. I chose wisely. My old roommate, who for all I remember I last saw in Lisbon in 2007, and her boyfriend picked me up at the airport and we headed over to their apartment, where I was made a fantastic little bed space while they packed up to prepare to head back to Boston the following day. I spent a good deal of time laughing at my old roommate for having a heavy Portuguese accent when she spoke English, and reminded her that she was from New Hampshire. I perused their German philosophy and classical music books and various instruments lying around for a bit, and then we wandered a few blocks over to have dinner at boyfriend’s mom’s house.

An hour into touching down in Portugal, I was getting a homecooked meal and heavily encouraged to drink as much Port as I could down. My friend translated for me and we had a nice little dinnertime chat before checking out my friend and boyfriend’s studio, where they make dubby dance music under the moniker Niagara and use a lot of weird equipment to do so. Their studio was also pretty much a dining room, so it gave it an extra classy Euro feel. What an ending to the travel, I tell ya.

After checking out some Portuguese street art, watching street dogs fight, and enjoying a quiet chat over tea in the kitchen, the next morning I headed to the airport bright and early. I landed in Newark, NJ and was finally back on the East Coast. I quickly hopped in the car for a stellar road trip out to Ohio, then rejoined my family to do the Christmas thing in NJ, then spent New Years Eve in a whirlwind of three parties in New York, and am now settled down on the job hunt, ready for more insane life adventures in that new old city of mine. 

Processing the entirety of the past five months or so will take a bit to really get myself up to speed with what it all means and what changed or didn’t really change about my perspective on things, on myself, and on the world – but it’s certain that, despite the credit card debt I’m in, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever fucking made in my life. The best bridge between Portland and New York, the best country choices, the best people, the best experiences, the best timing, and, of course, the best stories.

Thanks for reading along, friends. 

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