Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sorry, But I Just Couldn't Resist (No Offense Intended)

Having opened the door yesterday with my comment that Oslo seems like a giant sculpture garden, I really have to show you a few shots of a park we stumbled on quite by accident today on our way back from the Folk Museum. On the map, it's called the Vigeland Sculpture Park. And it's, well, let's just call it "different" for lack of a better word. Here's the first sculpture we saw, from a distance, though this photo was obviously taken from closer up. Yes, that's an anatomically correct statue of a naked man and a naked woman. We first noticed the statue because a young girl was standing on the platform massaging, well, you can guess what she was massaging. After she walked away, we went down and took some photos. As we were walking away, another young girl, this one dressed all in pink, ran up, hopped on to the platform, and started massaging the same part of the statue.

Next, we encountered this, as seen from a distance. It's an obelisk, right? Well, yeah, but it's a bit more graphic when seen from up close. Here are a few more shots, of one of the gates to the sculpture platform and of some of the smaller sculptures around the obelisk. I particularly like the honesty in the statue of the two older women.

As the title of the post suggests, I don't mean for this post to offend anyone. The obelisk actually seemed like a very popular gathering place. There were parents taking photos of their children playing around the statues that had children in them. People were sitting in the sun, talking or watching other people. It seemed a nice, relaxed place to gather on a sunny spring afternoon. Can I imagine this in Charlottesville? Not on your life!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Random Shots from Oslo

It's the penultimate full day of the trip, and it was very slow and mellow here in Oslo today. The husband and sons did some laundry while I re-packed the bags that the husband and I will take home with us on Monday. I didn't really have the energy to write a full post, but here are more than a few shots from the 15 miles we walked and the two museums we visited in Oslo yesterday. The first shot is a larger-than-life-sized fabric flower in the cemetery across the street from where we're staying in Oslo. We have a two-room suite in the Catalina Bed & Breakfast, an older home converted into flats. The images below are all from the Viking Ship Museum. Some are of the ships themselves; others are of things found with the ships. I particularly like what appears to be an Eastern Buddha-like figure.

The photos below are from the Kon-Tiki Museum, a museum devoted to Thor Heyerdahl's expeditions. I remember reading Kon-Tiki in elementary school and being fascinated by it.

Below are a manhole cover and some sculptures we saw on the walk from the museums to dinner (at Peppe's Pizza, a chain we discovered in Trondheim) and from there back to the hotel. The Norwegians do love sculpture; it's like one big sculpture garden here.

Finally, here are a shot of a store window, signs for two streets just made to be together, and a playground something that the sons say they really wish they had in the States. For all I know, they might have it there, but it has an air of "danger" about it that suggests they don't.

We're going to the Norwegian Folk Museum tomorrow and, time permitting, the Fram Museum and/or the Norwegian Maritime Museum before dinner at an Indian restaurant we found on the way back to the hotel last night. Interestingly enough, Norway has actually been the hardest country in which to feed a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, so happening across this restaurant was nice; we wanted to do a nice dinner with which to send the sons off on their own adventure and the husband and me off to home. I was a bit concerned about finding a place in which we could each eat happily, and I think this one will work nicely.

If I don't get a post up tomorrow, let me say that I've appreciated that you've traveled with me via this blog. It's been a wonderful way for me to keep a journal of the trip, much easier than writing on paper or even "to myself" on the computer would have been. I may post some follow-ups such as one about waste disposal around the world, but those will probably to to my more everyday blog since I have to bring this trip to a definite end sometime. If your feet still itch, I imagine that younger son will keep posting photos to his blog, so check in there from time to time over the next three weeks. Happy trails!

The Rabies Tour 2009 (Health Care Around the World)

My previous experience with health care outside the US was in 1990, when I had younger son in the Netherlands. The quickie comparison, younger son in 1990 in the Netherlands versus older son in 1987 in the US, was comparable pre-natal care (caveat to come), comparable delivery experience, better post-natal care in Europe. The caveat on the pre-natal care was that my doctor for the older son experience in the US was a family medicine resident while my doctor for the younger son experience in the Netherlands was an obstetrician. If I'd been a Dutch woman, I would have used a midwife, but my US health insurance only covered midwife deliveries under special circumstances, so I had to use an obstetrician. The cost comparison? About a thousand dollars less in the Netherlands. I had worried about whether there would be problems with insurance covering everything or at a minimum asking all sorts of questions and making me justify every little thing. A friend who was working for a health insurance company in Ohio at the time assured me that her company typically paid routine foreign medical claims without questions because they knew the cost would be less than a comparable claim in the US.

Getting treatment in so many locations for my possible exposure to rabies has been similarly fascinating. My first stop after getting bitten was the Royal Angkor International Hospital in Siem Reap. The "International" means that they're the first stop for foreigners needing treatment which means that their prices are out of the reach of most Cambodians. When I checked in at the Emergency Room desk, I was told there was a $100 cost just to be seen. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem. The total cost for treatment there was about three times the initial $100, but included a physician's fee as well as the cost of the rabies vaccine, pain medicines (two different kinds, Tylenol and something stronger), and antibiotics (again, two kinds, pills to ingest plus salve for the wound itself).

Since Royal Agnkor was out of the immunoglobulin I also needed (I was the fifth dog bite of the day), they told me to get that in Ho Chi Minh City the next day. I finally found it at the SOS Clinic, which somewhat caters to the health care needs of expatriates. I had to see a physician in order to get the shot, so my bill from SOS lists a physician charge about equal to that on the Royal Angkor bill, and a rather sizable (about five times the charge for the doc) charge for the immunoglobulin. This bill plus the first one put the total cost to almost four digits; fortunately, we had that much cash on hand as well as a good credit card. Fortunately again, we know that insurance should reimburse us for everything when we get home and file the claims.

I got the second and third shots of the rabies vaccine in the Netherlands. To get them, I went to the local hospital in Apeldoorn (yes, that's the place where someone tried to drive a car into the royal family), explained the situation, and asked if they could help me. They did not have the vaccine on hand but were able to get two doses of it the same day. I paid for the two vials of vaccine at the pharmacy then carried them down to the emergency room where a nurse used one of the vials for the dose I needed that day. Can you imagine a hospital in the States handing you vials of drugs and telling you to carry them down the hall? I can't. After the shot, I was told to take the second vial back to the hotel and keep it in the refrigerator for the four days until I needed the next shot, something else that would probably never happen in the States. And when I asked the emergency room nurse what I owed for the shot itself as opposed to the vaccine, I was told there was no charge. For the second shot in the Netherlands, I returned to the hospital, vaccine in hand, went to the ER, and got the shot. Again, there was no charge.

For the next shot, in Trondheim, Norway, I had the advantage of a local contact. The husband e-mailed his cousin and asked him to see what he could arrange in advance so that I didn't have to appear, unannounced, at the local hospital as I had done in the Netherlands. I ended up with an appointment at the local health department. I arrived at the designated time, filled out a medical history, spoke with a nurse, and received the shot. I asked her what I owed, and she replied that I owed nothing. Surprised, I asked whether I needed to pay for the vaccine itself as I had done in the Netherlands. No, she said, assuring me that this had been approved by the director. She said that they would be reimbursed by the national health department for the cost of the vaccine so there was nothing I needed to pay for. If a foreigner needs emergency medical care in Norway (as for an accident), care is provided free of charge. My dog bite may have happened two weeks earlier and in Cambodia, but the fact that I needed the vaccine injections on very specific days, one of which happened to be while I was in Norway, made it fall under the heading of "emergency" care following an accident. Needless to say, I was quite happy about this, though I fully expect to have to explain to my insurance company why I am asking for reimbursement for charges in Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Netherlands, but not Norway.

Why do we make it so difficult and, by extension, expensive in the US? I think a good deal of the problem is not with health care in general as much as it is with the legal system and the possibility of a malpractice claim any time health care is delivered. I could take the rabies vaccine home and put it in the freezer instead of the refrigerator, bring it back for the second injection, have some adverse reaction, and sue the hospital. Or I could lose or tamper with the vial as I carry it down the hall to the ER. It's safer for the hospital to do it all themselves. And to the hospital, time is money so if a nurse spends time giving me the injection, they want to be paid for that time. As you might imagine, I prefer the Dutch model of paying for the vaccine and the shot comes for free or even the Norwegian model that distinguishes between non-elective or emergency care and elective care. I know the issue is much more complex than that, but that's sort of what I've been thinking of in mindless moments on the train, based on the Rabies Tour 2009 (we've actually played around with a t-shirt design).

Final thought at least for now: A friend asked whether I get to wear a rabies tag after I finish the course of vaccines. I think that's an absolutely wonderful idea. Since I have all sorts of rabies tags that have been given to the cats over the years (my cats don't wear collars), I plan to come up with some rabies tag jewelry after we get home. As with many things, laughter may not be the best medicine, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

To Hell and Beyond

First off, let me be very upfront here. If you could live in Norway on what you can live on in Vietnam or Cambodia, I’d be looking to relocate as soon as we get home. If you love the mountains and/or the water, Norway is about as good as it gets. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you saw some of that in the photos from our weekend at the mountain cabin with Blaine’s cousins. And we saw more of that in our brief journey to the Inderoy peninsula north of Trondheim. Older son wondered at one point if one could overdose on Norway’s beautiful scenery just as one seems to overdose on Cambodia’s temples or Hue’s pagodas and tombs. We were assured by someone who has lived overlooking the Trondheim fjord since 1974 that her heart still quickens each morning when she opens the curtains. She figures that when it doesn’t, it will either be time to move or she will be dead.

As for the title of this post, To Hell and Beyond, our first stop after leaving Trondheim was, yes, Hell, as in the train station in Hell, Norway. We stopped there 19 years ago and have a photo of the sons and me on the platform to show for it. The train station is a bit more modern today, but still as photogenic. Here’s one of my other photos from Hell. I really need to do a post, perhaps on my everyday blog when we get home, on just how far ahead the rest of the world is in the waste disposal business. I have not posted all the photos I’ve taken of the various bins we’ve encountered in our travels. In my informal rankings, Sweden is probably the most ahead, but Norway isn’t too far behind.

After Hell, we stopped at Stiklestad, where King Olav Haraldsson fell in battle against peasants and petty kings in 1030. Olav’s death is considered to be the breakpoint in Norway’s transition from paganism to Christianity. Olav had outlawed all religions but Christianity, and shortly after his death was canonized as a saint, thereby cementing Christianity as the Norwegian religion. Stiklestad and, by extension, Trondheim to the south became prime destinations for Christian pilgrims. At Stiklestad today, there is an outdoor drama in the summer, and a cultural center with exhibits on Olav’s life and death. The cathedral model in the cultural center was pretty impressive. The real church at Stiklestad was pretty impressive, too. There’s supposed to be a rock under the altar inside that figured in one of Olav’s miracles, but we weren’t able to get inside the church to see it.

Our destination in Inderoy was the home of yet another of the husband’s cousins. We’d never met her before, but we bonded almost immediately. She and another cousin were wonderful tour guides for our time in Inderoy. (Totally extraneous but fascinating fact: These two people were both first and second cousins. They are first cousins through one parent and second cousins through the other. I told them they must be first-and-a-half cousins.) The first evening, we walked through a wonderful sculpture garden containing works by a sculptor named Nils Aas. Inderoy sits on an arm of the Trondheim Fjord, and this sculpture represents the fish in the fjord. The scales twist gently in the wind but even more interestingly, the wires are rigged to produce musical tones, so that you hear as well as see the sculpture. Aas was a very versatile sculptor based on the variety of works presented in the garden. This one represents working women. Any cat owner can relate to this one. There’s also a wooden moose and a metal pole vaulter.
Finally, this one fascinated me because the Norwegian word for “squirrel” is so close to the English word “acorn,” which squirrels are noted for collecting. I need to remember to ask my friend the linguist (say hi to Gilbert for me, please, Virginia) about this. As for natural beauty, here’s a shot I took on the same walk, after the sculpture garden and while just walking through the town.
If you’re wondering what we were doing in Inderoy, besides getting out in nature, try this. Yes, that’s the husband’s family name on that lower road sign. The family farm in Inderoy, on which the husband’s grandfather was born and from which he and six of his siblings emigrated to Canada and the US, is still in the family, and it’s something of a pilgrimage destination in its own right for all the North American descendants. On the way there, we stopped to visit what’s known as “the new church” and “the old church.” The new one is from the late 1800s. I just realized that I really didn’t take a photo of the whole outside of the church, so this will have to do. I took quite a few photos inside the church, though. The cross in the above photo sits atop a spherical candle holder. When a death occurs, anyone who wants to remember the deceased lights a candle and puts it in one of the 30 holders around what would be the equator of the sphere. Above the main aisle of the church hang two large light fixtures and this. When I asked, I was told that there’s a ship hanging in most Norwegian churches. It symbolizes one’s journey through life. Another thing I found interesting about the church was that the only stained glass windows were at the front, around the altar. The side windows were all plain glass, which gave wonderful, natural lighting to the inside.
The old church dates from 1150 and was consecrated in the 1180s. They still worship there on occasion, but not regularly since there is no electricity and, by extension, no heat. Unfortunately, we were unable to get inside, but as you can see from the outside, there aren’t many windows.
Perhaps because of my interest in quilting designs, I was fascinated by the metalwork on the doors.

I also strolled around the graveyard. From the hillside above, you can see both the old church (the red roof to the lower right) and the new church (the white steeple) along with the fjord. From there, we headed to Norum. We were enjoying lunch in one of the houses on the family farm when the sons got their own nature moment after a bird flew into one of the large windows. It was only stunned, so the sons held it and stroked it gently as it came to. When it seemed to have awakened sufficiently to get by on its own, they left it on the deck railing from which it flew away a few moments later. After lunch, we toured the original farmhouse which is undergoing yet another interior renovation. About all that is left of the original house is the foundation, but it’s still somewhat awesome to know that six or so generations of the same family have lived on this spot. It’s also somewhat awesome that the fifth or sixth generation of babies is using the family cradle. We have photos from 19 years ago that show the then-four-month-old younger son lying in the cradle and the then-two-year-old older son sitting in it. The latest Norum to use the cradle is three months old; his grandfather is one of the cousins who gave us the grand tour of Inderoy. We also hiked through the woods to see the view of the fjord that the husband and I remembered from our visit 19 years ago. What wasn’t there 19 years ago were two very impressive anthills, so impressive that, like the fish sculpture we saw the first evening, you could hear them as well as see them.
Older son’s taking a photo of the second anthill provides a scale as to just how big the anthills were. And here’s the view from the point that was just as stunning as we remembered.

The ground cover on the point overlooking the fjord was pretty cool, too. I’m betting someone out there will recognize what it is, but I really don’t know. Finally, we drove by one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world, the one connecting Inderoy to Mosvik at Fosen-peninsula. The cables don’t show up too well in this, unfortunately. They’re nominally red in color, but looked to me to be much more pink than red. We also drove over this bridge on our way back to Trondheim. We took a longer way back than the one we came on in order to see a bit more scenery and get a 35-minute ferry ride in the process.

Our final adventure in Trondheim was front row (as in about four feet away from the stage, on chairs in what normally would be the orchestra pit) center (as in the space in between me and one of the husband’s cousins was the middle of the row) tickets to the opening concert of Trondheim’s annual Nidaros Blues Festival. The concert paired the Grand Mothers, the Frank-Zappa-less Mothers of Invention, with the Trondheim Symphony. The symphony opened the concert by playing some Stravinsky, since Stravinsky was one of Zappa’s favorite composers. The Mothers then joined the symphony for some joint pieces before performing two long sets on their own. The symphony then rejoined them for the finale. While the acoustics might have been better further back in the auditorium, I really enjoyed being able to see the faces of the band and symphony members, and the eye contact back and forth. They were clearly enjoying immensely playing together. Sometimes it sounded very much like jazz, with one side playing off the other somewhat improvisationally. And the audience definitely got their money’s worth since the concert started on time at 7:30 and finished at 11:00 with only one 15-minute break.

I’m writing this on the train south from Trondheim; I’ll add the photos and upload it tonight in Oslo. If I get adventurous along the way, I can go roam the train wearing my Blues Festival t-shirt (an advance edition since they didn’t go on sale until today; we got ours early courtesy of the husband’s cousins who are on the festival’s board of directors). The Grand Mothers are supposedly on the train with us to Oslo, and I could use the t-shirt as an introduction. It might be fun to tell them how much we enjoyed last night’s show.

Here’s an interesting aside that I just decided to add since I decided against wandering the train in search of celebrities. In this post, I’ve mentioned a new church and an old church as well as how multiple generations of the husband’s family have lived on the same farm. Every time I have visited Europe, I have come away marveling at the history a European can mark relative to the average American. While we certainly have things in the continental United States that date from the days of Inderoy’s old church, they are not generally celebrated or appreciated. I think the county in which I live, Albemarle County, Virginia, had its 250th (I think) anniversary not too many years ago. The fact that I don’t remember exactly which anniversary tells you how big the celebration was. By way of comparison, in 1997, Trondheim, Norway celebrated its (pausing for effect here) 1,000th anniversary. Now, that’s history!

I will try to post something from Oslo over the weekend since we plan to see some interesting things there including the Viking Ship Museum and the Folk Museum, an open-air museum of Norse buildings and culture. At the same time, though, we need to repack the luggage so that the sons aren’t carrying anything they don’t need during the next three weeks and so that the bags the husband and I will take home are under the British Air weight limit. The sons also want to see about doing some laundry so that they at least start their journey in clean clothes. It probably should embarrass me to say that we haven’t done laundry since Cambodia almost three weeks ago, but it’s really not that hard to lower your standards in the interest of saving money and/or having more time to do neat things and see beautiful places. In fact, if I were packing for this trip now, I’d be packing even fewer clothes since I now know just how many times I will wear the same clothes without washing, and it’s many more than I would have thought two months ago.