This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gluten-Free in Trondheim, Norway (Part 2: Packing)

See my Gluten-Free Travel page for the whole series. 

Part 2:  Packing

This is the minimum, and typical kitchen you'll find in any single-occupancy, non-luxury space. 

It is two burners, a sink, and a mini-fridge in the cupboard beneath the burners. Our's is a fancy newer model and I get a luxurious whole foot of counter-space. Unless you see it in the photos or it is specifically listed, don't assume that the space includes an oven, a microwave, a freezer, a dishwasher, or any other appliance. Plan on working with this much space.

"furnished with kitchen" may mean a range of things.  In one apartment, it was plasticware and paper plates, a worn teflon frying pan, a semi-melted spatula, a bunch of coffee cups, and an espresso maker (Norway is one of the largest coffee consumers in the world).  In another apartment it was a full set of dishes, pots, pans, and utensils (but, oddly enough, no spatula). 

The two most expensive things we invested in new when we arrived were a good sharp knife, and a stainless steel frying pan with a lid (both from Ikea, for around $30 total).

You might want to find room in your checked luggage to bring a few essentials along. All the frying pans we've encountered in the shared spaces have been very worn teflon, and gluten-particles can easily hide in the cuts and scratches to contaminate our food. A deep sautee pan like this one can double as a pot for soups, sauces, and rice, or you could throw in an additional small pot to cook rice at the same time as a stir-fry.  A can opener and a nylon spatula are good additions, as both tend to be difficult to decontaminate.  We found cleanable things like drinking glasses, tableware, etc. at a local thrift shop (Fretex is the Norwegian Salvation Army and have a store on Fjordgata in the city center). 

If you can afford it, investing in a set of backpacking kitchen tools (pots, pans, eating utensils, etc.) would eliminate your dependence on whatever your hosts have stocked. They'd also be nice and compact and lightweight for travel.   

As room permits, I would advise packing the following, in order of priority, to prevent gluten-contamination and to be ready to cook right away on arrival:

1. frying pan
2. dishcloths x2
3. dish towels x2
4. hotpad
5. sharp knife
6. can opener
7. spatula
8. pot with lid
9. scrubber for pot and pan

If you have tons of space, you could throw in things like a rice cooker, but remember that you have to haul it around a lot. Gluten-free flour mixes are plentiful here, but if you really depend on something specific (like tapioca flour) then bring it in your checked luggage.  Remember, though, that you might not have an oven.

If you plan to try and maintain your own dishes in a shared kitchen, add a plastic tote with a lid to the list.  This should take up minimal space, as you can pack clothes and other things into it and around it inside your suitcase. If you plan to simply pre-wash shared dishes, skip the tote.  Your own dishclothes are especially necessary in a shared kitchen, where the provided ones will be full of crumbs. 

If packing pots and pans sounds dubious, know that you can save a lot of space on clothes.  Since so few people have clothes dryers, clothes are often worn several times before washing, and then air-dried on racks or lines. The general low humidity means that most clothes dry within 24 hours even in rainy weather.  I discovered that I had packed ten or twelve outfits when three would have been plenty; even for four months!

Casual dress is the norm, and you'll see people out at restaurants in jeans, hiking boots and windbreakers on a regular basis.  If you are travelling in summer, expect weather similiar to the Pacific Northwest, and bring a light sweater and jacket to layer for cool evenings, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans (two if staying more than three days), and a few tee-shirts. In fall or winter, skip the shorts and add a second, heavier sweater and a coat, scarf, hat, and gloves.  Winter gear is easily available here, and high quality.


After a cross-continental flight on Delta where I discovered by accident that the fancy handsoap on the plane was designed to leave a layer of wheat gluten on the skin as a moisturizer, we travel with our own hand soap.  Softsoap makes a travel-size body wash that works well and is available at most pharmacies and grocery stores in the travel section. 

Also note that airlines rarely clean the surfaces between flights, and serve lots of gluten.  Wet wipes, even baby wipes, will help you decontaminate your seat area (tray table, screen controls, etc.).

About a week before your flight, call the airline to confirm that you have requested a gluten-free meal.  You'll be spending a minimum of 12 hours in airports and planes, so make sure the airline is doing some of the work to feed you.  If you have multiple dietary restrictions, you might be on your own.

You'll want to bring snacks.  Remember that you won't be able to bring any liquids over 3 ounces into the terminal, so don't count on smoothies.  You can, however, bring an empty water bottle or thermos to fill at the drinking fountains once you're past security.  Otherwise expect to pay $3.00-$5.00 for bottled drinks.  There are sometimes restrictions on air travel with whole fresh fruits, so it's best to avoid them.  Bring sturdy, filling things like granola bars, dried fruit, carrot sticks, and gluten-free beef jerky and pretzels, and enough to feed you for 24 hours if necessary.  This accounts for unexpected weather delays, as well as the fact that you won't want to immediately go grocery shopping after a 12 hour flight. 

Suggested list for carry-on packing:

1.  handsoap
2.  hand sanitizer
3.  wet wipes
4.  empty water container (fill before getting on the plane)
5.  gluten-free snacks for 24 hours
6.  earbuds
7.  European plug adaptors and step-down converters for phones chargers and laptops (hard to find here, but Radio Shack and Best Buy have them in the U.S.)
8.  Any medication you will need for the trip, in original prescription bottles with your name
9.  OTC pain pills
10.  Anti-diarrhea and antacid meds.

Next up: Your First Day in Trondheim

Friday, September 18, 2015

Gluten Free in Trondheim, Norway (part 1: Finding a place to stay)

This is part one of a series on visiting Norway with a severe gluten sensitivity and/or Celiac.  For the other parts, see my Travel Page.

My partner and I have embarked on the grand adventure of living in Norway for four months (essentially the fall semester).  He is doing research at NTNU, the major university in Trondheim.  Since Norway is a civilized country, they offered a spousal allowance in the grant for me to accompany him.  So I am taking a semester off school myself.

My partner is severely gluten-sensitive.  He has gotten sick several times just by sitting at a table at work where someone ate pizza or sandwiches, or grading papers with crumbs on them, and absentmindedly touching his face or handling his own food. We keep the entire house strictly gluten-free, after a full decontamination when he was first diagnosed five years ago.  (A shout-out to our marvelous group of tabletop gamers, who have been willing to only bring gluten-free snacks to our bimonthly game!)  I avoid eating gluten myself, because I can transfer gluten easily via my skin, clothes, and mouth after I indulge.

So fast-forward to the idea of spending four months trying to live gluten-free in a rented space in a foreign country where we do not even speak the language. It's taking a lot of trial and error, careful reading and translating, and a lot of planning to do.  It's also completely worth it!  Hopefully, some of what I learned will help you plan a trip to Norway, even if you're not staying quite as long.  

STEP ONE:  PLAN AHEAD (selecting a space)

You gotta have a kitchen.  This is something that most folks without food allergies don't understand, because they can order takeout for every meal.  There are a few high-end restaurants in Trondheim that do gluten-free meals (although their level of gluten-free is questionable as they use shared cooking spaces with gluten).  But eventually you will need to make food for yourself, at which point a regular hotel room is too limited. 

The first challenge to gluten-free living in Norway is the predominance of shared space.  The majority of places to live have shared kitchens; especially in a college town like Trondheim.  Bread is an enormous staple here for all meals, so if you are very sensitive, you need to do the digging to find a place with your own kitchen you can decontaminate and keep clean. If you can handle a crumb here and there, you may be able to get by simply by washing dishes and surfaces before prepping each meal, or keeping a set of clean dishes and cookware in a tote separate from your housemates.  

For a Short Stay (up to two weeks):

There are a few "apartment hotels" in Trondheim, whose rates are fairly competitive with Airbnb.  They book quickly though, and they may not have rooms available on short notice or for long blocks of time.

City Living Hotel and Apartments has an English website.Ttheir rooms seem to start around 600 kroner a night for a room with its own fridge and shared access to a large communal kitchen.  A "Superior" room with its own kitchenette starts at 700 kroner per night.  The Trondheim location is right in the City Center and close to everything you will need or want in Trondheim. 

Trondheim Leilighetshotell has an English-language page, and includes pricing information (starting at 700-900 kroner a night for a studio apartment with a small kitchen).  It is a poor location if you don't have a car.  It is quite a hike to the nearest grocery store, and not always with sidewalks.

There are much more expensive options (starting around $1500-$2000 kroner a night) but if you can afford those, you should be working with a travel agent for the best up-to-the-minute accommodations.  

For a Long Stay (or if the hotels are full): 

You will need

Generally a lifesaver, but has some tricks to know.  Good for translating specific websites, but navigation often suffers within the translator.  For instance, with Airbnb, you'll want to open specific listings in the original website, THEN paste the individual listing into translator to read in a second tab.  The image gallery in most cases will also work better in the original site, so don't try to view images through the translator.  If you have the translator app, it will suggest corrections to misspelled words, which happens as often in Norwegian as it does in English.

AirBnB is perfect for short-term rentals in actual homes in Norway (generally up to a month).  You pay a flat rate per night, week, or month and it includes all utilities for a fully furnished place. As with all of these websites, some places are listed incorrectly as the entire apartment or house when it is really a shared space.

Hybel is a Norwegian site for listing short and long-term rentals and sublets.  Long-term rentals in Norway means two to three years, so you are looking for short-term if you are just visiting.

This is the Craigslist of Norway.

Both Hybel and Finn are buyer-beware; they do not have the guarantees or payment system of Airbnb.  If you're staying for more than a week, you may want to book two or three nights via Airbnb, then look for a better place once you are here.


Number of rooms: Apartments are listed as the number of rooms, but Google translate interprets "2 roms" as "two bedrooms" when in fact it means the entire flat is two rooms: probably a living/dining area and a sleeping area.  1 rom is a studio, which may have one or two tiny beds or just a sofa bed.  The number of rooms does not include the kitchen and bathroom.

Meters square: Again this does not apply to the kitchen and bath; only the primary rooms.  It is often listed incorrectly.  If a listing has a large number of rooms but a small square meter listed, it is probably a shared space and you are only getting a bedroom.

Bedsit: The cheapest option you will see will be for a bedsit, which is a single tiny bedroom in a dorm-style space with a shared bathroom.  There may or may not be kitchen or laundry facilities.  Many bedsit places seem to be rented on the assumption that the occupant will survive on takeout.

Parking: If you plan to have a rental car, make sure there is parking available.  Public parking is much more expensive the closer you get to the city center.

Cost: Housing is not cheap in Norway, and Trondheim is especially expensive.  For your own space, expect to pay in the neighborhood of 8000-11000 kroner per month, or 500-1000 kroner per night in or near the city center (in the bend between the river and the fjord).  Prices drop as you get further away from town, but the necessity of having a car rises proportionately. type "NOK to USD" into Google to get a currency converter. 

Location: Norway is an extraordinarily low-crime place compared to the U.S., so I would not be especially concerned about "safe" and "unsafe" neighborhoods.  Instead, the focus should be on amenities.  Grocery shopping is something you should plan to do every day, as many places only have mini-fridges in the kitchens with space for two or three meals.  Our American habit of having everything available in one store is also a hard one to break.  Use Google maps to search for the following near your prospective place:

Grocery stores with excellent gluten-free selections:
  • Bunnpris
  • Rema 1000
  • Kiwi
  • Meny (has the best selection)
Other potential needs:
  •  apotek (drugstore), as grocery stores don't carry any kind of over-the-counter medications like aspirin.  
  • Hardware store (Jernia or Clas Ohlson are the most common chains)  Here is where you will find brooms, mops, adhesive hooks, tools, and often kitchenware such as pots, pans and utensils.  You could also visit Ikea by bus, car, or taxi for your cookware. 
  • Things to do:  Are the places you want to visit in Trondheim nearby? 
  • Fretex:  The Norwegian Salvation Army stores have the same assortment of kitchenware as the U.S. thrift stores, and might be your best bet if you just need a few basics.  Remember to re-donate when you go. 
If you don't plan to have a car, you will want to see how far you are from major bus routes.  Google Maps is fairly unreliable for transit outside the U.S., so go straight to the source and look at the AtB transit website, available in English here:

The transit system here is safe, reliable, and widespread.  When you arrive, get a transit card and load it for the time you will be staying for the best price.  It is much more expensive to buy individual rides as you board.

Next:  Part 2, Packing for Norway