Wednesday 28 March 2012

Minor Grumbling...


So, my shoulder is actually recovering quite quickly - I can very nearly get my arm over my head again (not quite) and I'm doing lots of weenie weights at the gym with cables. I start physiotherapy (hopefully not many session) on Monday, and I'm taking full advantage of David's private medical insurance, as the NHS said it would take weeks or months. I'm going to attempt to run tomorrow morning - hopefully that won't be a disaster. God knows I've read a lot of horror stories about dislocated shoulder on the internet, but thus far (touch wood) mine hasn't been too bad. Still though, my arms seem to have shrunk already down to little Barbie arms - dougasaurus rex, and if I have to do another minute on the indoor stairmaster I think I'm going to cry. Still, it could be worse... I do still sleep with the sling on, propped up slightly, on my back or side, in the extra bedroom - I don't want to have the arm go over my head and fall off or something in the middle of the night - I imagine that being an icky way to wake up - even worse than turning over and ramming one's nose into the wall (yes, I've done that).

Funny, even with trial and tribulation, I look back on my time in Tromso, and, for that matter, Tromso itself, and think - wow, what a cool place.

Life's funny...

Yesterday was my low point, I think - I was really in a terrible, awful mood. Cycling, I've come to realise, is my big stress reliever, and my way of being out and about in the world. I'm actually not that much of a big city person, not really, not truly, I've come to accept. Cycling has allowed me to ignore that fact, and when I'm not doing it, when I'm mashed up against some smelly, awful person on the Tube, that's when I really feel, what am I doing here? Still - it's been about 14 years now in NYC and London, which isn't too bad. I'm not sure either David nor I see ourselves living in London for the rest of our lives - it's just too big and annoying, though I do very much like it. Where would we go? Who knows. I always do this little mental exercise when I go to a new city - could I live here? There have been a few yesses in that list - mostly, it seems, in Germanic countries. I don't want to go back to the USA though - we've gone through too much to get here, I like living in Europe, and I don't ever want to go back to American work culture (2 weeks off??? Awful!). I'm very happy with my six weeks, thank you very much! Anyway though, plenty of time to think - nothing is going to happen in the immediate near future...

Thursday 22 March 2012

Tromso, and Thump-Ow Strikes Again

Yes, those two do go together.

David and I just got back from Tromso yesterday afternoon. Where the hell is Tromso, you ask? (Actually, there should be a little do-dah thing going diagonally across that last o, but I don't know how to do it and I'm too lazy to find out). Anyway, Tromso is right up at the tippy-top of Norway where it curves back towards Russia. It's on a small island surrounded by truly breathtaking mountains - imagine the sort of setting of Vancouver and put the treeline at about 500 feet. I'd wanted to go to Tromso since I was about 10 and read about it in a magazine (Geo, maybe?), and, I have to say, it did not disappoint. The home of such astounding things as the world's northernmost cathedral, university and Burger King (at nearly 70 degrees north - about that of Barrow), Tromso is actually a super-cool, laid-back, outdoorsy and very classy little city - not frontier at all.

We flew up there last Thursday via Oslo, nearly missing our connecting flight. Oslo is another place I want to go, btw. David, Avi and I went up there, and were met, a day later, by a friend of Avi's (also David), who lives in southern Norway, in Stavanger. The flight up to Tromso was rather bumpy, so Avi spent a good deal of time grabbing onto either the seat, David or me for dear life. Suppose the combination of mountains and high winds would make for a bumpy flight. We landed at the micro-dink Tromso airport, collected our bags and went to the rental car counter.

No, sorry, we don't have any record of your rental. Nope, none.

Fortunately, that was solved quickly through another (more expensive) rental car company, but we then spent the next hour on the phone with the rental car company (Alamo - they suck) and the bank trying to remove the charges from my credit card for the non-existent car. They are still there and I'm going to have the bank start an investigation. So, we got the rental car from Sixt. Sixt is one of the more bargain type car rental places, so we ended up with a small Hyundai with a huge sign across it advertising the local name of the rental car company - I'm talking covering the entire side of the car. Now that's high class. It was the first time in 6 years I'd driven a stick shift and the first time in 14 years I'd driven a stick shift with my right hand, so things were a little tricky at the beginning, though, amazingly, I actually didn't kill the engine. The car had studded tires, thankfully, as most of the roads were sheets of ice (that connects to the thump-ow bit).

We spent the first evening there just wandering around the town, and made the first of several trips to the small local supermarket to stock up on food (as we had rented a holiday apartment). Norway is so stupdendously expensive it just boggles the mind - most food items are at least twice what I would normally expect to pay. Apparently, wages are higher as well, but my God, how can these people afford to live?

Our sleep the first night was interrupted by what sounded like a herd of elephants running around on the floor above us. It turned out to be two Aussie women, who had returned from seeing the aurora at 345am. We couldn't quite figure out how they could possibly make so much noise, but every night it was the same routine - and it sounded like they were running back and forth from room to room - constantly.

The next day I drove back to the airport, with Avi, to pick up his friend. They have just installed a new gate system at the airport - to get into any parking lot, including the area in front of the terminal, where you pick people up, you have to put your credit card in. You then have to put the credit card in again when you leave, when it determines how much to charge you. Of course, none of this is written in English (how thoughtless!), so we spent some time at the entrance to the airport, trying to figure out how the hell to get past the gate. Fortunately, Norwegians seem to be patient folks.

We spent that day wandering all over Tromso, which, being quite small, is a very wanderable city. I ran across the bridge (huge views) and up into the hills as well. That night, we all went to dinner down by the waterfront, and spent an astronomical amount of money on a very nice dinner. I ate Rudolph. He was yummy. (My choice was down to Rudolph or Shamu, and I felt a bit guilty about Shamu).

Saturday, I ran in the morning on the ice-covered and hilly streets, and then we rented snowshoes and took the gondola up to the top of the mountain across the fjord. From there, we snowshoed off towards a nearby peak. It was pretty cold (maybe 20 or so) and very windy, and on the way down from the top we ended up in a whiteout. I've never been in a whiteout before - it's actually rather scary, as you totally and completely lose your sense of direction. Thankfully, we had a GPS, so we didn't die in the Arctic wilderness or anything silly like that - but it did illustrate how people can get in trouble very rapidly in such situations.

That night we drove about 100 miles inland (or, rather, I drove) - all of it on snow and ice-covered roads, and a good deal of it in blowing snow. The roads in that part of Norway are just barely wide enough for two cars. They seem to huge the water at the base of hugely steep mountains, and they are very windy (for example here and here). The Norwegians, used to driving on them, drive at a pretty good clip. Very scary in the winter, at night, in heavy snow (on top of packed ice). All I can say is thank God for studded tires! Our little Hyundai was a virtual snow-tank! Anyway, we drove way the hell and gone to the absolute and total middle of nowhere, just across the border into Finland, where it was clear and much drier. We had our first aurora sighting back inside Norway, when Avi looked out the window and wondered about this wispy cloud, which, in fact, turned out to be the Northern Lights. We stopped by the side of the road - cameras out, tripods up, and watched the river of white-green light flowing across the top of the valley until it faded away. We didn't actually go very far into Finland - less than a mile, b/c we didn't feel like dealing with the border station. I parked the car in an open area along the road and we sat around and waited, engine on, heat on, eating sandwiches. Amusingly, David and I bought these mats to lay on to look at aurora, but it was just too damn cold for that. So now we have some nice mats that we lugged back and forth to Norway.

The place we stopped, being exposed, had huge amounts of wind blowing across it, as well as whipped up snow, so the actual experience of standing outside and watching was a little on the nippy side (that and it was about 19F). The aurora was white-green again - nearly white to the naked eye, but green to the camera, and, being so far north, it covered most of the sky. We stood out there, in the elements, for quite a long time, just watching the slow waves of light wandering across the sky - the occasional arrow straight stabs of light, the fluttering curtains. I'd seen the aurora before, in Minnesota, but there was just something about standing out there, surrounded by miles and miles of nothing (and a car only about every 15 minutes) that was pretty damn amazing. Eventually, the lights faded away, and we pointed the car back towards Norway.

Someone, I'm not sure who, got the idea of trying the radio. We had three music choices. In Finland we had the Finnish language sort of oompa loompa music station, and back across the border in Norway we had either opera or Norwegian country. There is something very odd about driving across darkened, snow-covered Arctic landscape listening to country music sung in bork-bork.

Sunday, we slept in (as we got back around 130am) and then just did stuff in town again. I went for a long run up in the hills (surrounded by cross country skiers). Avi made a curry that night.

Monday, David, Avi and I set off for the Arctic Ocean. I told David that he could no longer say we'd not had a beach trip this year. Of course, we sat, huddled up, eating our sandwiches on a snow covered spit of land, just past some fisher's cottages, with snow covered mountains in the background. It might not have been beach weather, but it was, most definitely, a beach. From there, we drove out to, literally, the end of the road, where there was a cute little town, reached by a very narrow bridge. We were slightly delayed on the way back by a very large moving truck blocking the the entire highway. Apparently, it did not occur to them to put chains on before trying to drive up the steep, ice-covered driveway, so everyone had to sit around and wait for what seemed like an inordinate number of men to run around and finally fit oversized chains to the truck to get it out of the road. We sat for maybe 15 minutes - not sure, during which time no one honked. Not once.

And then, the thump ow bit. That evening, it being a beautiful, cold evening, I decided to run up the hill again. The sunset lasts for several hours at that latitude and the light is just amazing. They do, by the way, sell running shoes with spikes (I'm going to buy some, for future winters), but I just had normal shoes (but a lot of experience running on ice). Anyway, all was fine until I was on my way back down the hill. I turned a corner just as I hit a patch of glaze ice and my feet just went out from under me. I went flat over on my left side, right onto my shoulder. I did manage to pick myself up out of the road, but became aware of a growing amount of pain from my shoulder, and that I couldn't move my arm properly. That was the shoulder I broke, so, of course, that was my first fear, but it didn't feel broken. I sat down on the snowbank, then tried to walk. I couldn't walk, because of the pain. I did call David though, as I was starting to panic and didn't know what to do. I tried to explain where I was, but, having no idea the name of the street, I succeeded mostly in blubbering on the phone. To my immense relief, a slightly older couple walked by and asked if I was OK. No, I don't think I am. The guy said he would go get his car and drive me to the hospital. I waited a little while, during which time several other people stopped, and he finally showed up with his car. By this point I couldn't move my arm at all, nor could I sit still, because of the pain. I felt my shoulder, and could feel the top of it sticking out - great - I dislocated it. The guy stopped by the apartment to pick up David, and then drove us to the hospital. We thanked him profusely.

Perhaps it's because it was not in a big place, but the signage in the hospital was awful, so we did have some trouble figuring out where to go. David and I waited first in this sort of ante-room, for maybe half an hour, where we were registered. From there, we were told to take an elevator up to another floor (to do this we had to walk out through an unheated area, which was a little odd). At this point I had my first set of x-rays done. This was excruciating and I had a terrible time standing in front of the machine (though the women there were very nice). From there it was on to another waiting area, which a very random collection of people hanging about, mostly young, speaking English and Norwegian. David tried to leave this area to use the toilet, but, apparently, once you're in, you can't leave - the security guard shooed him back in. After another half hour or 45 minutes (which seemed like about 10 years - I was really having trouble keeping it together). I was asked to go into a private room, where I was seen by a doctor and a nurse (both female). I was stuck with what seemed like quite a few needles (my hand is now bruised, as is my elbow) and given a good whack of morphine, after which the doctor did some unspeakably horrible thing with my shoulder and popped it back into place. Fortunately, I was mostly in la la land at that point or I'm pretty sure I would have pooped myself. I sort of vaguely remember leaving in a taxi with David, but, honestly, the rest of that night is a bit blurry.

Poor David - he is so supportive, and I have to admit that it was a goddamn stupid thing to go running that night, when it suddenly got cold, and was so icy. I think the whole thing stressed him out more than it did me - I think I owe him one.

I slept that night, propped up with pillows, on my back, and have had my arm in a sling. We ended up having to stay one extra day, which cost a fortune (most of it we will get back through travel insurance, but still). We got the 645am flight out yesterday - just barely made it to the airport in time. It was very cold out again and the car (diesel) didn't want to start. I drove, which wasn't quite as bad as I had feared, as I had only just given David his first lesson in driving a stick shift.

Today - well, today I went to the doctor and got a referral to an orthopedic surgeon, who I will see tomorrow, after which I will start physiotherapy. Again. My shoulder seems incrementally better already, and I was told I probably didn't tear any ligaments or tendons, but I can't bike, I can't gym, I can't run, and I can't even sleep normally. I'm annoyed and pissed off and feel like an idiot - I debated not running that night - thought it wasn't a good idea, but thought, oh it will be fine. And it wasn't. But, there isn't much to do about that now except get better, and never go running on ice again without proper shoes. I think about living in Minnesota - that was defintely done without the proper equipment, but it was generally fine (well, fine until I wrecked my car on ice and buggered up my knee). I didn't know at that point that you could get spiked shoes, or spikes to put on your shoes (which I got for my hiking boots - they are great). I suppose you learn these things. Unfortunately, I have always opted for the learning by breaking route, and, often, the thing that gets broken is me.

I would still go back to Tromso though - I intend to go back to Tromso - with my bike. That's the funny thing about the place and this trip - I come back seriously damaged but still think - hey - that was a really good trip - I'm not sure I've ever felt this particular conflicting set of emotions. The next month or so is going to suck - a lot. But, I'm still really happy I went. Tromso did not disappoint. It's nice to have a childhood dream sometimes that actually comes true.

Sunday 11 March 2012

And what happened, exactly, to winter?

I think it occurred about 345pm on a Thursday. There was a little cold, some snow and a lot of whining. And now it's spring - things are blooming, my allergies are being a huge pain in the ass and we seem to be having a serious lack of rain. But then, that has been true in at least half the springs since I've been here. There is much talk of doom and drought. Things turn and icky brown and then it starts to piss it down all summer. That would be find with me, as they are threatening to ban hoses for the summer, which will make gardening a little difficult.

I went for a 66 mile bike ride today with a friend (a friend with a proper racing bike). Wow, that pretty much kicked my behind - definitely time to shed a few unnecessary pounds, bikewise. Still though - it was a lovely ride and the weather was perfect.

We're off to Tromso on Thursday, hopefully to actually see some northern lights. I've been wanting to go there since I read about the place when I was about 10, so I really can't wait!

I just ordered a bunch of flower seeds for the back yard. Without giving it a whole lot of thought, I ordered two ounces of mixed dry-weather flower seeds. Two ounces is a lot. We will have a lot of flowers - hopefully without a lot of water! After today's ride, I spent the last hour before dark pruning things, cleaning up debris, etc. The life of a gardener, eh?

Oh, we had a funny minor disaster the other evening that would probably only happen in a gay household. I walked up the stairs and noticed this funny chemical smell - vaguelly sweet, definitely familiar. What is it? Where is it coming from? I traced the smell into Robin's room and finally into a corner where WHOAH there seems to be an exploded bottle of poppers and guess which dumbo just gave himself a massive dose of it? It was a funny experience - I was really torn between trying to open the room and ventilate the room and being, briefly, high as a kite. I suppose if one was going to have a mishap, there are worse possibilities. We aired the house out for a day, but it took several days before the house didn't stink. Ah, the hazards of a gay house.

Thursday 1 March 2012

16 Again (sort of)

Wow, so, today, in the mail, I got my "Provisional Driving Licence" for the UK, which is, essentially, my learner's permit. It has the awful, grumpy looking picture from my passport (which never seems to work in the automated passport checking booths at the airport for some reason...). I figured that, after 8 1/2 years it might actually be time to get a local license, seeing as how my NYS license is, technically speaking, only good in the UK for year. I'm going to renew the NYS one, even though I've not lived there since 2003. Gotta love crappy data control! Anyway, I now need to learn the highway theory book ("The Highway Code"), take a few lessons to improve my LH stickshift driving (as you have to take the test on a stick if you want to be licensed to drive a stick - most cars here are manual). The worst bit is I have to take the road test, and most people fail their first time. Unlike the US, where if you don't cause a 38 car pileup you can pass, here it's actually quite difficult, and I'm actually going to take a series of driving lessons, so I can learn what I have to do to pass here (like not ever crossing my hands over when I turn the wheel). Yay, I can't wait.