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“Wait, once more. You actually walk out into the middle of a forest to spend the night there? Why on Earth would you want to do that???”

Garima seemed totally lost, as table talk during lunch had veered to that particular Norwegian pastime of ‘gå tur’ – that is, to leave civilization behind for a few hours or days, just be at one with nature and one’s own company. While I guess I was the most eager of my colleagues in that department, there wasn’t a Norwegian alive who didn’t have at least childhood memories of walking into the boonies, be it as part of a school outing, the scout movement, or just for the sheer heck of it. It was what we did, I guess. Part of what made us what we were, for good or bad.

I could see it being a somewhat exotic pastime for an expat from Chandigarh, India, though. She giggled a little nervously, as if she wondered if we were pulling her leg. “I mean, even downtown Bergen looks positively barren” she observed, nodding towards the window and its scenic view of what passed for downtown Bergen. “And yet you go to even more remote places, not despite, but BECAUSE they are more remote?”

Murmurs around the table. I shrugged and suggested that while I could see it sounding strange to someone being airdropped into our little neck of the global woods, I also believed it was a key experience if one was to ‘get’ Norwegians, as it were – as this tradition, while not kept up by all, was seen as quintessentially us.

Murmurs were accompanied by nods of approval. Garima shot glances around the table, her large, brown eyes locking on each of us in turn, seemingly still trying to figure out whether we were serious or not. All 5’4″ of confused Indian looked rather ill at ease, never liking to be reminded that she didn’t quite understand what was going on. She started inspecting the massive truss of black hair normally draped over her shoulder and chest, as she was wont to do when nervous.

I hurried to explain that we weren’t talking about any kind of extreme wilderness stuff, here – it could be as simple as walking a little along a footpath in the hills behind your house, taking a stroll along the seafront – or, perhaps, if one felt like it and had access to a suitable cottage, spending the night before returning. Roughing it even more in a hammock, a tent or even sleeping on a mat directly on the ground if that was your thing.

“I think what does it for me, at least, is the quiet and the lack of anything happening. Say, I’ve a small cottage I can use whenever I feel like it – about an hour and a half from here, near Voss. After I’ve parked, it’s a mile or so to walk, and once I get there…” I sighed, reliving a number of pleasant stays, both alone and in good company. “Once I get there, I get a fire going in the wood burning stove, prepare a warm meal and some coffee, then… Well, go for a walk if the weather’s agreeable, read a book if it is not, perhaps just sit outside watching the day end. If I’m quiet, I can see various game come out of the woods as evening falls…”

Visibly relieved, she left her hair to its own devices and nodded, hesitantly. “OK… I guess. Still sounds a little strange, but then again…”

“Yeah,” Harald chimed in from the corner. “Erling’s a bit of a weirdo in that respect – he can fell what, eight, nine deer every hunting season, but he’s content just watching them graze along that small lake of his…”

Garima looked startled. “What, you have a LAKE? And wild animals?”

I nodded. “That I do. Oh, and don’t get the wrong idea, Harald has even come along for hunting there a couple of times and I don’t mind, it’s just not for me. I’m happy to eat game, I’ve just never taken an interest in actually hunting myself. I’ll let Harald do that, then I can help skin, quarter and preserve whatever he shoots, instead.”

A couple of the others chimed in, too. “You should go there once, Garima – hell, it could be argued it is Erling’s own expat integration service, didn’t you take Wasim up there last year? He enjoyed it, didn’t he?”

I chuckled at the memory. Yes, Wasim, our Pakistani chemical engineer, a couple of years my senior at 44, had been (Good-naturedly!) cajoled into coming along a summer weekend last year when we’d found he had absolutely no plans whatsoever for his summer holidays, as COVID made going to see his parents outside Karachi a no-go and he could well do without visiting his relatives in Norway – a couple of cousins in Oslo and their extended families.

Wasim hadn’t struck me as the type who’d enjoy such an outing particularly well, but much to my – and, I believe, his – surprise, he was thrilled, claiming the (very) basic amenities brought back childhood memories of being with his great aunt and uncle, who’d eked out a living as subsistence farmers. Musing over coffee on the porch as the sun set, Van Escort he’d observed that now that he led – for a day or two – a simple life by choice, it had much more appeal than it had ever had when being by necessity.

He’d since borrowed the cottage a couple of times, bringing friends to what he claimed was the archetypical Norwegian experience, last time chucklingly returning to the office observing that he’d be most surprised if whoever built that cottage way beck when had even entertained the thought that a day would come when a bunch of Moslem guys had tried to figure out which way to orient themselves come prayer time inside that very same cottage.

I’d have to hand him that it was unlikely they’d paid much attention to that during construction. I’d grown to appreciate Wasim a lot – while he could seem quite aloof at first, once you got to know him and found that much of his aloofness was simply his way of distancing himself from settings he didn’t quite understand and, hence, to avoid the risk of making a fool of himself – well, he was a genuinely nice guy and I hoped we’d find an opportunity to go there together again.

“That he did, to the extent that he’s gone there on his own a couple of times afterwards – well, bringing a couple of friends, that is. I haven’t been able to make him go full tilt Norwegian and becoming a semi-recluse, yet.”

Garima giggled. “Well, if HE can enjoy it, it can’t be too bad!” she exclaimed, before excusing herself somewhat. “Not that I know him, I mean, he just… Well, he sure seems to appreciate creature comforts at least as much as the next guy, right?”

“That, I think, is part of the appeal. Not that staying in a cottage is meant to be an ascetic experience or something, but the break from everyday life makes you appreciate both being there and returning to your daily routine.” Nods.

“OK, I’m in,” Garima chirped. “If you’ll let me come along next time you go, I’d be happy to try it. What do I need?”

“Oh, nothing much, really” I replied. “Sturdy footwear, warmer clothes than you think you’ll need for the season – with summer on the wane, it can get quite nippy in the evenings – that aside, nothing but your usual bright mood and a sleeping bag should you wish to spend the night.” I blushed a little. “There’s a small bed loft in addition to the bunks in the main room; you can shack up there.”

She nodded. “What, two bedrooms? And this is what passes for ‘primitive’? Will a pair of regular boots do, by the way? Like the ones everyone uses when Bergen is being Bergen?” Garima had soon picked up on the reputation Bergen had for being a quite rainy place.

“Yes, that will do nicely – they’re not what you’d want to wear for a long hike, but seeing as we’ll only have to walk about a mile and can bide our time, that will do. Would be no use sending you shopping for this and that, I mean.”

“I guess I have all I need, then,” she chirped. “This’ll be interesting. Don’t keep me waiting for too long, hear?”

That being settled, lunch was pretty much over and we scuttled back to our offices. First thing I did was check the weather forecast for the weekend. Clear skies, rather brisk, but no rain. Now was as good a time as any, I figured – late September could still seem quite summer-like in the daytime, but the evenings grew colder fast; we might as well head out on Friday, if Garima didn’t have any plans. I brought up the office IM client and hailed her.

>>”So, will this weekend do? Weather looks promising.”

>>”Wow, seriously? OK, I’ve no plans I cannot postpone. Uh, to keep me from making more of a fool of myself than what is necessary, can I bring what I intend to wear tomorrow, then you can give it a thumbs up or down? It’s not like I’m going to come dressed in pumps and a skirt and asking where the cottage is, but I hate not being properly prepared for anything.”

>>”No worries, let’s have a look in the morning. As said during lunch, it is hardly a mile if that to walk, and in quite straightforward terrain with a decent footpath – so just about anything will do, except maybe pumps. “

>>”OK. How about food?”

>>”I’ll buy some before we depart, cooking facilities are, uhm, simple, so don’t expect a four-course dinner. Oh, by the way – you veg?”

>>”Not paying attention, are you? I had lamb salami on my sandwich today. 😀

I’d rather avoid pork out of habit, but don’t mind eating it if it is what is available, my family is as secular as they come. When in Rome I fully believed an experience like staying out in the boonies gave a foreigner a few glimpses into what made us natives tick – and it most definitely made it simpler for them to relate whenever discussion turned to cottages, hiking, the outdoors and whatnot, as it was wont to do.

Besides, you got to know people much Van Escort Bayan better, much faster. There was something about being alone together, cut off from the rest of the world, if only for a day or two, which made most people open up, and seeing as there were no entertainment options besides mutual company, good conversations tended to ensue more or less by default.

Yes, I could see myself enjoying a cottage stay with Garima, who’d been with us for a few months – having recently graduated from the Indian Institute of Science (incidentally, officially marking her as among the fraction-of-a-fraction-of-a-percent brightest Indians, and there were A LOT of bright Indians to go around), she’d applied to take part in a research project to be carried out at the University of Bergen, which had cooperated with the IIS on an earlier, related project.

Upon coming here, she’d been surprised to find that most of the actual research took part in various tech companies around town, with her only making token appearances on campus every couple of weeks. Anyway, the setup suited her fine – she got to stay abroad for a while to try that out, she got paid much better working part-time for us than she would have working full-time at the university, so in addition to getting relevant experience and a couple of publications to her name, she also could save up a little before returning home in a year and a half.

We’d soon come to like her – ours was a rather motley group of what our manager called academic flotsam – he’d a particular knack for nosing out graduates who weren’t quite set for a life on campus, but whose talents were more in the applied direction.

Hence a public-private cooperation, ensuring we had a steady inflow of brilliant people, the university got a reputation for actually producing commercially useful research – and academics not quite content with the publish-or-perish, short-term contract cycle of untenured academic life found themselves having the time -and income!- of their lives, while having enough publications to their name in a few years’ time to perhaps make the jump back into academia and possibly even tenure should they so desire.

Garima had fitted right in, finding it almost unbelievable that a world existed in which her professor wasn’t a demi-God to be revered from a distance, but rather just Henrik, all-round nice guy and not at all hesitant to get his hands dirty if some field exercise or another wasn’t flowing quite as smoothly as hoped for. At first, she hadn’t even understood he was actually a full professor, mistaking him for a research undergrad and being mortified when realizing her mistake – only to be immensely relieved when she found that Henrik found the whole misunderstanding amusing, quipping that he apparently either looked way younger than his years – or looked exceedingly dim, still doing rote work in his late forties.

I found myself having been lost in thought for quite some time, and try as I might, reverting my attention to the circuit board layout on my screen proved hard. Oh well, the layout wasn’t due in several weeks anyway, and I had pulled plenty of overtime during busy times, so I clocked out and went home, pondering what I should make for dinner as I walked to my bike. Living only a couple of miles from work, my car more often than not was parked from Sunday until Friday without seeing any use whatsoever.

I arrived at home without any lightning bolt of dinner inspiration striking me on the way, so I did what used to refer to as MacGyver cooking – I had a look in the fridge to see what I had, then grabbed a beer and started preparing something edible from whatever caught my fancy. (This lackadaisical approach was helped a lot by my shelves being stocked with more dry goods than usual – be it pasta, lentils, rice, lots of spices and condiments – so, basically, as long as I found some base in fridge or freezer which seemed tempting, I could make a dish around it.)

Today? Well, a little piece of chorizo sausage served as the base, being cut and left to simmer with some garlic, bell pepper and olive oil while I put on some pasta water to boil. Fifteen minutes later I grated some parmesan cheese over the steaming hot dish, had another beer and sat down with dinner and my filofax – another sign that I, perhaps, was a closet luddite – and made sure I hadn’t made any plans for the weekend. I hadn’t. The cottage and Garima it was.

The rest of the evening was spent procrastinating; luckily I had the good sense to do it while listening to a couple of excellent albums, so it most definitely wasn’t time wasted.

Thursday morning arrived, and, as usual lately, I woke up just after 0530. A habitual early riser, I much enjoyed getting my workday started early, so that I could (in principle!) call it quits early. More Escort Van often than not, I simply wound up working a ten-hour day rather than the nominal eight, but I guess that was the price you paid for being lucky enough to look forward to going into work every morning.

Fetching yesterday’s leftovers from the fridge on the way out, I was on my bike riding through a still quiet-ish Bergen just a tad after six o’clock. If this weather held up, the weekend would be a nice one – clear skies and pleasant (at least to a Norwegian) temperature even at this early hour.

Getting off my bike to cross the light rail tracks, I glanced at the building we rented offices in, a couple of hundred meters in front of me. No lights in any window. Good. Not that I minded being around other people, but I found that I often got my best work done in the early AM when no one else was around.

Having placed all of the components on my layout yesterday, I started doing the routing. Sure, lots of software claimed to be able to auto-route, but I always found that I’d have done things a bit differently if I had routed it myself, then wound up going over the whole job with a critical eye, moving a track here, a component there – so I had given up on the whole concept and resigned myself to manually routing even in the 21st century. I found the practice somewhat meditative, so I wasn’t complaining, despite the work itself being incredibly repetitive.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and next thing I knew, there was a knock on the door. I glanced at my watch. Quarter past eight, presumably most had arrived by now. Garima entered, smiling a little uncertainly as she carried a bag into my kingdom.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to bring this bag tomorrow,” she giggled. “I just couldn’t bring myself to wear a rucksack to work. I’ve got a nice, ergonomic one I borrowed from my neighbour. She’s about my size, and all the stuff in this bag fit nicely inside it.”

I nodded, grateful that she had the good sense to borrow a rucksack. Glancing inside, I was further relieved. Some wool underwear, a sweater, rainwear, a pair of loose-fitting cotton trousers, a sleeping bag… Yup, she’d more or less gotten all the kit she needed covered.

“As long as you remember to bring boots tomorrow rather than those slippers, you’ll be fine.”

Garima smiled and pulled the zipper on her bag shut, thanking me for my time.

“Oh, not to worry. Thank you for being prepared!” I quipped as she returned to her own office, a few doors down the hall.

I smiled as my attention returned to the screens in front of me. I would be most surprised if this didn’t turn out to be a most pleasant weekend indeed, Garima was excellent company and I liked her attitude, relaxed, yes, but relaxed as she had prepared herself, rather than being blissfully ignorant. If only the weather stayed reasonable, we’d be good.

The rest of the day zipped by, and before I knew it, it was time to head for home, prepare my own stuff for tomorrow and get myself something to eat.

The afternoon rushed by as I tried to get most of what I had planned to do during the weekend settled – not that I had any major project going on, but at the start of the working week I’d decided I’d spend some time putting the finishing touches on a hobby project of mine, restoring an old kerosene stove. I’d replaced the pump leather and all gaskets for new ones, had polished the tarnished brass to within an inch of its life and now applied lacquer to it to keep the shiny appearance. I already had another of the same make and model which retained all the patina of a hundred years of usage, so when I had come across another which was rather the worse for wear, I had decided to restore it and put it on display. Once the lacquer had dried, all that remained was to give the burner head a quick acid bath to remove a hundred years of gunk and soot – but that was not a task I’d undertake at home!

I went to bed before the clock struck ten, eagerly anticipating a weekend in the boonies.

Next morning, I found that, yesterday’s anticipation nonwithstanding, was a creature of habit. I had gotten downstairs and started to bring out my bike before remembering that today, I would need my car.

I sighed, apparently I was not fully awake yet – I’d even stowed all the necessary items in the trunk of my old Land Rover before going to bed the night before!

Locking the bike again, I went back to my flat to pick up the ignition keys – not that they were really required, the ignition was so worn I had been able to start the car using the key for my apartment. The driver’s side door lock was new, though, and still wanted the proper key to let me in. In a pinch I could open the passenger door with just about anything I had on hand to get inside. Good thing it was a car not very likely to attract the attention of a car thief – being a 1964 series IIa, it didn’t even have a fully synchronized gearbox, so chances were any thief desperate enough to steal it would leave it after trying to bring it up to speed…

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