I've just returned from a week in Oslo, Norway, where I spoke at NDC 2010, immediately following a week in New Orleans, where I spoke at TechEd. I'm about nine hours jetlagged and glad to be home, though I had a lovely time. Many thanks in particular to all the NDC organizers who made it all happen; I felt very welcomed.

First off, here's some video of the panel discussion that Mads, Neal, Jon and I had at NDC; basically we just opened up almost an hour for two hundred or so Norwegian developers to ask us whatever they wanted about the language design. (Apparently the streaming video site has had some bandwidth issues, so try to not all hit it at the same time.)

The rest of today's post is some disjointed commentary on various aspects of New Orleans and Oslo; if you only care about technical stuff, you can stop reading now.

Things I learned about New Orleans:

  • It is hot. And it's not just the temperature; it's the dew point. The humidity is what really gets you.
  • Do not, I repeat do not get into a taxi in New Orleans without a map, an address and detailed turn-by-turn directions to get you where you're going. We had cab drivers who did not know the way from the corner of Canal and Bourbon to major landmarks, famous clubs and large downtown hotels.
  • I knew it would be good, but in fact the jazz and blues music in New Orleans is incredible, in both its quantity and quality. In particular, we had a happy accident; due to the inability of our cab driver to find a particular club we ended up going to House of Blues instead and we just decided we'd see whoever was playing. The headliner that night was Tommy Emmanuel, who I'd never heard of but who was introduced as "the greatest acoustic guitar player in the world". That's because he's the greatest freakin' acoustic guitar player in the world. I had no idea that some of those sounds could come out of a single six-string guitar played by a single ten-fingered guitarist. On the stage at the beginning of the show are four acoustic guitars: one is a pristine Gibson from the 1930s and the others all look like hell. In fact, they look like they have been repeatedly attacked by a lunatic wielding a wire brush. That's because they've been repeatedly attacked by a genius wielding a wire brush.
  • House of Blues will not tell you that they're selling you standing-room-only tickets when there are no seats left. Nor will they open up the balcony seating. (I was initially irked at how much I paid for SRO but thirty seconds into Tommy's set I no longer cared.)
  • The drunken-frat-boys-yelling-all-night party is on Bourbon Street. The far more enjoyable impromptu-poetry-slam-and-amazing-jazz-jam party is on Frenchman Street, just to the east of the French Quarter. (Basin Street, Basin Street does not appear to at present be the street, the street where all the folks meet down in New Orleans, the land of dreams, and you'll never know how much it means.)
  • Beignets at Cafe Du Monde taste very much like fried dough with sugar on it.
  • Alligators like marshmallows.

Things I learned about Oslo:

  • Oslo does not have this high dew point problem. We saw people in parkas on some of the chillier rainy days.
  • Spending the week of the longest days of the year walking around a city situated north of the 59th parallel is quite something. At one point Leah asked me what time I thought it was. Around nine? No, in fact it was almost midnight and no wonder I was so tired. It really does never get dark; it gets a bit dimmish for the hour or so between sunset and dawn. 
  • Middle-aged painters (of pictures, not houses) feel perfectly justified sitting down at your table at an outdoor cafe, interrupting your conversation with your new friend, and telling you all their opinions about beer, women, marriage, the new Oslo opera house, travel, hotels, painting, art, photography, music, architecture, oil, money, and international relations. It was delightful. As a Canadian I'd never dream of doing that but I enjoyed the conversation very much and would not have thought to start it myself.
  • Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Every day I boggled at how much I was spending on things that would have cost half or a third as much in Seattle, which is already a reasonably expensive city by North American standards. A bottle of Pepsi: four dollars. A bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water at a mid-scale restaurant: eleven dollars. An ice cream cone: nine dollars. A small pizza and a salad for two: sixty dollars. Probably the best value we found was the restaurant at Hebern Marina: tasty food, fast service, mostly cold dishes with a lot of fish in them, not completely unreasonable prices. (Six Norwegian Kroner is about one US dollar, so a plate of smoked salmon and potato salad is about $25.)
  • Our guide book said that service at restaurants in Oslo is "not rushed". This is code for "you have to state specifically that you want to pay your bill now". Before we realized this we had multiple situations where the wait staff would ask "do you want anything else, coffee, tea, dessert?" and we'd say no and then sit there with empty plates and glasses in front of us for a quarter of an hour before tracking down the wait staff and asking for our cheque. The correct answer to the coffee and tea and dessert question is "no thank you, could you please bring us our bill now?"
  • The sheer amount of stone in Oslo is quite amazing. Almost everything at street level that I typically think of as being made out of concrete in Seattle is made out of solid blocks of granite in Oslo. Bizarrely enough, given how much high quality stone there must be in Norway, the facade stone for the opera house was imported from Italy. One would think that they'd want to keep all that oil money in the country.

Anyway, we had a delightful time in both places, but it's good to be back.

Comments (13)

  1. Robert Hahn says:

    This "ice cream code" of which you speak: can you tell us more about it? Are they tasty?  Do you have to break them before you  eat them?  What type of encryption do they use? For nine dollars I hope they use good encryption. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Robert Hahn says:

    BTW, glad to hear you had a great time, and welcome back!

  3. Jon Skeet says:

    It was indeed a fabulous event in Oslo. Oh, and don't forget the bizarre metal sculptures all over the place. I remember the metal more than the granite ๐Ÿ™‚

    Side note: Holly and I are now enjoying Thirty Rock, so thanks for the tip…

  4. Clinton says:

    Agreed on the "bring a map".  Our one experience with a NO cab driver going from the Airport to the Port to catch a cruise ship and he left us far, far from where we needed to be (about 6 blocks).   He claimed that the "road was closed" up ahead.   Having gotten out and seeing that, yeah, he hadn't even tried to get close I wound up stiffing him entirely for a tip.

    Other cabbies dropped off right at the passenger drop off.  Whether he was lazy or incompetent, I don't care.

  5. CPDaniel says:

    Wow!  Oslo has gotten expensive in the last 25 years!   I was there in the mid 80's and the relative cost (compared to central California) was not nearly so skewed.  We definitely noticed the "not rushed" service in the 80's, so at least some things don't change!

    Glad to hear you had a nice trip!  

  6. Peter Milley says:

    My rule of thumb when overseas: never ever translate food prices into your home currency. That way lies madness. Best to just think in the local currency as much as possible.

  7. Denis says:

    If you think New Orleans is hot, come to Darwin, Australia: the average high never falls below 30C (87F), year around:…/Darwin,_NT And it's not just temperature: it's the people! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Niall Connaughton says:

    Tommy Emmanuel is a long kept Australian secret. Well not really kept that well. But yeah, he's great!

  9. Mike Greger says:

    โ€ขAlligators like marshmallows.

    I discovered this while growing up in Florida. My dad bought a small boat and we would take would take day trips up and down a local river. We often fed the alligators marshmallows, which they seemed to enjoy. They also liked canteloupe.

  10. Sounds like a wonderful time, especially the guitar player!

    "Bizarrely enough, given how much high quality stone there must be in Norway, the facade stone for the opera house was imported from Italy. One would think that they'd want to keep all that oil money in the country."

    Well, judging from the prices you mentioned, it sounds like they have enough of an inflation problem already. ๐Ÿ™‚ They need to turn the oil money into luxury items as fast as possible… though if they're buying rocks, maybe they've run out of things to buy.

    I believe the Spanish had a similar problem after bringing home gold from South America – they made the mistake of equating gold with wealth, and so hoarded as much as they could, and were hit with rampant inflation that hurt their domestic economy for centuries.

  11. Tor Livar says:

    @Peter Milley – As a Norwegian, I usually enjoy converting restaurant prices to my local currency when travelling, since it always seem so cheep that way ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Good to hear you had a good time on your trips, glad you found some things you liked in Norway – and sounds like you got more out of New Orleans than I did – but I did enjoy the 5-5 repeated "Meet the C# team" session :-).

  12. Nick Aceves says:

    You got to see Tommy Emmanuel live? I'm so freakin' jealous.

  13. Isaac says:

    Lucky – to see Tommy Emmanuel live without knowing what to expect! The guy's a genius.

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