Asker, Norway

Asker is a town (near Oslo) where I had a 3.5 hour layover, and does not feature the landscape shown above. Instead, this post encompasses the entire 15 hour journey from Kristiansand to Bergen.

The first and most immediate thing, that you learn about Norwegian train conductors, is that they have found the exact maximum speed that they can travel at any particular segment of track and not derail into the treacherous mountains and canyons nearby. Walking down the aisle of the train while it's moving is like being a bowling ball on a double-black diamond ski slope, with moguls. The trains are also built for this: they tilt to what felt like up to 8 degrees, giving the ride an additional roller coaster effect. I don't get motion sickness that easily, but I'll just say that I was glad I had booked a forward-facing seat.
The first and most immediate thing that you learn about Norwegian train conductors is that they have found the exact maximum speed that they can travel at any particular segment of track and not derail into the treacherous mountains and canyons nearby. Walking down the aisle of the train while it’s moving is like being a bowling ball rolling down a double-black diamond ski slope, with moguls. The trains are also built for this: they tilt to what felt like up to 8 degrees, giving the ride an additional roller coaster effect. I don’t get motion sickness that easily, but I’ll just say that I was glad I had booked a forward-facing seat.
A woman I met at the diner in Asker had commented that it was too bad I would do the crossing to Bergen at night, since the views were so nice. I thought that I had already had nice views on the first segment, so I didn't think much of it. Then I woke up to this--we were literally driving through the middle of the glacier right in mid-August. Three Germans that were sitting in my row on the train got off here at 4a.m., and though they were prepared for the weather I still had to feel sorry for them. A lot of this ride ends up being inside a tunnel--but not one that goes under mountains, rather, one that is built so that when the snow starts accumulating in the winter that it doesn't bury the tracks. This view, combined with the bowling ball/roller coaster feeling of the train, made me realize: I was on the polar express.
A woman I chatted with during dinner in Asker had commented that it was too bad I would do the crossing to Bergen at night, since the views were so nice. I thought that I had already had nice views on the first segment, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I woke up to this–we were literally driving through the middle of a glacier right in mid-August. Three Germans that were sitting in my row on the train got off here at 4a.m., and though they were dressed for the weather I still had to feel sorry for them. A lot of this ride ends up being inside a tunnel–but not one that goes under mountains, rather, one that is built so that when the snow starts accumulating in the winter that it doesn’t bury the tracks. This view, combined with the bowling ball/roller coaster feeling of the train, made me realize: I was on the polar express.
2015-08-13 04.12.09
This picture shows a Google Maps topographical image of where the train was as I was blearily staring out the window. You can see the path of the railroad via a faint gray line heading diagonally up and to the left from the blue dot.

Backtracking to Asker, I’m approached on the street by this pair of girls. Most instincts would make you suspicious of that kind of forwardness, but I was curious and felt relatively safe in Scandinavia.

This was the most surreal part of the day. I almost wanted to laugh multiple times during our conversation just because of how absurd it was to meet two Americans in Asker (from Las Vegas and Utah), on the street on a Wednesday night, and in this context.

It ended up being the most surreal part of the day. I almost wanted to laugh multiple times during our conversation just because of how absurd it was to meet two Americans (from Las Vegas and Utah) in Asker, on the street on a Wednesday night, and in this context. In case it wasn’t clear why Sister Williams (right) and Sister Ulrich (left) started talking to me, let me zoom in on the book:

When Sister Ulrich started crying as she was talking about her relationship with Jesus Christ, I knew I was in over my head.
When Sister Ulrich started crying as she was talking about her relationship with Jesus Christ, I knew I was in over my head.

I tried to steer the conversation to lighter topics like how they were enjoying Norway or what exactly people do in Asker, but they were good at getting back to religious topics. I really did enjoy hearing what they had to say; it was clear to me from the beginning that they had very strong faith and that comes across powerfully. On the small-talk side, I learned that their assignments are one and a half years, and that they do their work every day, starting with three hours of learning (both the language and the book), followed by knocking on doors and approaching people in the streets. They had to say farewell at the end because they had already gone past their 9p.m. curfew, but not before Sister Ulrich gave me her local number–in case I had any more spiritual questions.

I met one more super interesting person in Asker.

This is Sayyid. He moved to Norway from Afghanistan 14 years ago as the Taliban started gaining power. He has worked 18 hour days for the past 2 or 3 years and has never had a day off, alternating shifts between this kebab place and a supermarket. To get to Norway, he had to cross Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Germany. His English was very broken so I couldn't get any more details from him like how he crossed all those borders or if he has family back home, but he seemed quite content to be safe in Norway.
This is Adeeb. He moved to Norway from Afghanistan 14 years ago as the Taliban started gaining power. He has worked 18 hour days for the past 2 or 3 years and has never had a day off, alternating shifts between this kebab place and a supermarket. To get to Norway, he had to cross Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Germany. His English was very broken so I couldn’t get any more details from him like how he crossed all those borders or if he has family back home, but he seemed quite content to be safe in Norway.
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