Some of Patsy’s ancestors came from Norway, and when we were looking around for another adventure, this one came up at a reasonable price. So, on to Oslo.
The first day of a trip should not be an adventure, but sometimes it works out that way. This time, on the way to the park-and-ride, we got tied up with early morning traffic (poor slobs trying to get to work). We got to the place almost a half hour later than I had planned and the bus that would take us to the airport was about ten minutes late, and I started to feel nervous.
Once at the airport however, we learned that our flight to Los Angeles, where we would connect with British Airways on our way to Oslo, would be delayed for twenty minutes.
According to our itinerary, we had an hour and a half to land in LA, grab our suitcases, and scamper on over to British Airways. So now we had an hour and ten minutes to make the connection… still doable. For some reason, after we landed at LAX, our plane wasn’t inexactly the right space and we stood in the aisle for fifteen minutes; fifty-five minutes before our next flight was scheduled to take off.
We went to the baggage carousel where we found Patsy’s bag but not mine. She went on ahead to British Airways to find out what was happening while I waited for my bag to show up. After ten minutes with no luck, the carousel stopped moving. Damn! It was just a short wait, a mere five minutes, and my bag was the first to come down the chute, so now we had another forty minutes to get a boarding pass, clear security, and find our gate. Still doable.
Racing out of the main terminal, I asked several people where I would find British Airways. Two of the people just pointed off to the left, but a third told me that BA was about a half block away and upstairs, inside the Tom Bradley terminal. Once there, I asked someone else where to go and they said I could use either of two elevators or two escalators, to get to the second floor, each equidistant from where I was standing.
Unlike the donkey that starves to death in the old saw, I made a choice and set out for the one to the left… I should have gone right. Upstairs, I found a gallery with half a dozen various airlines, like the Emirates, Cathay Air, and so forth. It hit me that we had not made plans on how to meet up. Patsy had gone on ahead, but I had no idea where the heck British Airways was, and my forty-minute lead had shrunk to thirty. It was time to panic. All we needed was one TSA agent with a bad attitude and we would miss our flight.
Then I heard Patsy call my name. She signaled me to the right place, told me that our flight took off in an hour and a half, not thirty minutes, and we were okay for time. Life was good once more.
On our way to our gate, we passed an art installation of several tall, narrow lighted panels with pretty images on them and the sound of wind-chimes, just the thing I needed right then.
Once we were seated near our gate. we saw a big cluster of panels on the wall, arranged to look like the biggest television set you have ever seen. It was an interactive installation and set at a height that a child of ten could reach. When someone touched the screen, it popped up with a couple of bright blobs and then offers some choices of images. Anyone playing with the images could pull up pictures of plants or antique cars for instance, expand them, move them around, and shrink them back down again. We watched a couple of kids play with the screen for a while which was cool. (Okay, I played with it once or twice myself, but it was just to see how it worked and besides, I was a ten-year-old kid once)
Now that we had time, we needed to have a bite to eat, so I went looking for sandwiches. We ended up with a couple of airport salads that cost about the same as a full meal at Olive Garden, and had our lunch. Of course, we wanted a dessert; we had earned it and so I went looking for cookies. Here is a piece of advice for you fellow travelers: don’t be afraid to look at Starbucks in the airports. Yes, they will be a bit more expensive, but no, they won’t be as expensive as some of the other food vendors. I passed one stand that sold a single chocolate chip cookie for five dollars but then bought two cookies for the same amount from Starbucks. Who knew?
Our flight to Oslo would go through Heathrow in London and we were on a behemoth aircraft named Lee. I thought airplanes were given names like “Pride of London,” or maybe “Carrier of the Year” or something like that, but Lee?
When we deplaned, we passed down the aisle through business class. Not only did they have their own small cubicles, first class seemed to have their own private little rooms. Did I mention that there was a second story on this airplane? I got a chance to look upstairs and found that it looked a lot like our steerage section except with more legroom.
We chose to go with steerage to save money and with the optimistic belief that it was only ten hours and we could do that easily. What could go wrong?
Steerage had ten seats across, three on either side and four in the middle. We were on the outside of one of the middle four seats, so far back in the aircraft that they gave a separate door to come through. Leg room was generous enough so we didn’t hit our chins with our knees, but not enough so that we could stretch our legs should we get a charley horse (a real possibility at our age). This would be a ten-hour flight; I watched one movie and then napped as best I could. Patsy said that she did not sleep at all, which was not surprising.
Once at Heathrow, we asked about our gate, since there was nothing indicated on our boarding passes. The person at the counter told us we would have to check the announcement board to find out which gate we were supposed to go to. Looking at the board, I saw that the gate would not be announced until a half hour before our flight took off, but it would likely be in the direction of the A gates. Great; they were playing Russian Roulette with our gates.
As it turned out, the correct gate was nearby and we boarded with no problems. This was to the good as we were sleep deprived, running on raw energy, and not in the mood to play games. We were no longer optimistic about our resilience as we had been when planning the trip. After all, we were not in our twenties anymore – hell, we weren’t even in our sixties anymore.
Our last adventure was after we reached Oslo. We had planned to take a taxi to our hotel, but when we asked at the information desk, they directed us to the train kiosk instead. The train would get us near to our destination at about half the price. The only catch was, the kiosk did not accept cash and I did not have a code for my credit card (many countries are now requiring pin numbers for any credit card transaction). The clock on the wall said that I had ten minutes to go before the train left and I didn’t have a way to purchase the tickets! By the time I worked out that I could use my debit card (which already had a pin number), we had less than five minutes to get us to the train. By luck we got to the platform just as the doors to the car were closing; the woman in front of us was pushing a stroller, which took some maneuvering time. Bless her.
A couple of minutes later, a ticket taker came along and wanted to see our tickets. I asked her which station we should get off at, but of course she did not speak English, and of course I don’t speak Norwegian (Hey, I just barely get by with American). Anyway, through sign language and some pantomime, we figured out the station where we would get off the train. When we reached our station, she came back and made sure we were at the right one. Once we were on the platform, we could see our hotel. We had made it on time for the introductions and dinner.
We were up way too early, considering we had been flying, or waiting to fly, for some eighteen to twenty hours before, (Who can tell with all the time changes we had gone through) plus we had a bit of jet lag. However, we paid for adventure, and adventure we would have despite how much we would rather sleep.
Now a word about Oslo, or as much as we could say about it right now. The Norwegians at the hotel speak good English, in fact I complemented one, saying that he sounded as though he could come from California. The part of town we are in was full of construction because they are building an Art Museum across the street to compliment the National Opera House.
The opera house itself is just a few blocks away and is an interesting structure. It is huge, white, with a massive front window and a zig-zag pattern of ramps on either side of the window, leading up to the roof. People were walking all over the place and it would not surprise me if there was a restaurant or something like that on top. The building is supposed to represent an ice berg slipping down into the ocean. There is even a sculpture out in the water representing a smaller berg that calved off earlier, and we were told that people often dove off the opera ramp to swim out to the sculpture and back again. Yeah, like I could even imagine doing something like that, I mean, this is a fjord for heaven’s sake.
When we left Oslo the next morning, it was mildly overcast, not depressingly, but also not blue sky. Our first destination was at Eidsvoll, where the Norwegian constitution was signed in 1814. The building was a lovely structure with what we would come to see as particularly Norwegian touches. The flag out front was a three-tongued affair only flown in special places such as parliament or the royal palace.
An odd bit was I guess you would call an installation. On a well-manicured hillside, there were what I took to be old mill-stones, but it was actually one sculpture, representing the glasses worn by the man whose home was used for the constitutional convention. Go figure.
We traveled along the edge of a very large lake called Mjosa (with a slash through the “o”, which seems to give it an “aw’ sound. Our tour guide was called Oivind, which I made sound like a Jewish Irvin). The lake was a couple of miles across at its widest, and miles long. When we saw it, there were spaces of dirty ice and open water, but our guide told us people used the lake as the quickest route to Lillehammer when it was frozen over. That was an awfully large body of water to be frozen over.
By this time, we had passed through several tunnels and seen many waterfalls. I will talk more about these later.
Our next stop was at Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games. We stopped at the ski jump arena behind the Olympic torch position. There was only a small patch of snow on the ground, but our guide told us that the run down-hill was covered with ceramic tile and the landing slope was covered with a net of nylon ropes. Wetting both these areas down with water simulates how they work when they are snow covered and so the ski jump is usable all year long. He did not mention what the skier would land in, however. Olvind also pointed out a tree high up on the slope and told us that he and a couple of buddies hid in this tree during the competitions, taking picnic lunches and beer with them, to watch the ski jumps for free.
On the way back to the bus, we passed the mascot for the games, a figure taken from a 5,000-year-old petroglyph of a man holding what was probably a club, but was now a torch. We would see the real thing the next day, high on a cliff above the fjord.
We were headed for a museum that featured a display of how Horak Horakson, a young boy, was brought to the north of Norway to be king in place of some petty tyrants who ran the place. Horak’s father had been a good king and the folks who brought his son north believed the son would grow up to be like his father. The only problem was that the petty tyrants wanted to kill the boy – the rescuers had to protect him while they skied north. Horak eventually became king of all southern Norway (directions get a little scrambled here) before the time of Harald Fairhair, and now there is a race now that takes place every year to commemorate the escape. Each skier must carry a 65-pound pack to represent the boy’s weight as they race for the crown.
There was a display of different kinds of period skis, some of which were covered in fur. Apparently, the fur helps when going up-hill, but don’t ask me. The only time I tried to learn how to ski, I fell over and got a Charlie horse in a place I was convinced had no muscles to cramp.
Along with other displays and exhibits at the museum, there is a collection of historic buildings on the grounds. It seems that a local dentist wanted to preserve Norwegian culture and so he located old wooden buildings and then arranged for funding to move them to the museum. One of the buildings on the site is a stave church, the earliest church style in Scandinavia, dating from the Dark Ages. One of the more interesting features of the church are the stylized dragons on the eaves that were meant to scare away any evil spirits.
The church was painted with a coating of creosote and lemon oil to preserve it. No one knew at the time that this was a lethal combination for anyone breathing the fumes when they painted the church. So much for the protection of dragons on the roof.
On our way to our hotel that night, we passed the house of Sigrid Undset, a Nobel Laureate in Literature. Our daughter’s name came from an Undset trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter. We would have liked to take a picture of the house, but the bus did not stop long enough for that. We consoled ourselves with missing the opportunity, but also realized that we could take a picture of any similar house and claim it was Undset’s, I mean who could tell otherwise?
I’m sure we had a lovely Norwegian dinner, because just about every dinner we had was a lovely Norwegian meal, but the most memorable part of the evening was going to bed! It would take several days for us to get over the airplane ride and the jet lag.
Spoiler alert: some serious descriptions about Norway coming up.
I should mention right now that western Norway, which is where our tour took us, is very mountainous and is more rock than open soil (although we would see lots of farms along the way). Unless we were on a ferry, whenever we went to a new place, we would drive through several tunnels to get there. Oivind said the country had as many holes in it as Swiss cheese.
Because of the mountains and the cool air, there are many glaciers year around and a great deal of snow in the winter, which means there are waterfalls in abundance. Our trip was early enough in the year so we caught the snow-melt runoff. The types of waterfalls cover everything from tall, wedding-veil misty things that almost don’t touch the ground to squat masses of white water hell-bent on punishing the earth below. Almost any fold in the rocks sported some sort of waterfall or runoff. As well as the falls, we saw lakes, streams, creeks, and rivers all over the place. Many of these water courses are still home to Norwegian salmon, a boon to the gourmet dining world.
The Norwegians also realized that land farmed salmon tended to pick up parasites and diseases, and so they raise their salmon in net enclosures out in the fjords where they do not have to use antibiotics and pesticides on the fish. Along with the farmed fish, the multiple dams along the rivers have salmon steps so wild fish can swim upstream to spawn in their usual places.
Now, as to coastline and fjords, if you straighten Norway out, you get around 52,000 miles of coastline. Wow. Some fjords are salt water arms of the ocean, but others are fresh water, fed by the snow runoff. Almost all of them are deep enough to carry large ship traffic.
Something else the Norwegians have in abundance is wood. According to Oivind, farmers own not only the farm land but the forest behind it. The work seasons then are divided into farming and forestry care. The farmers are not allowed to clear-cut an area without replanting it, which is a marvelous idea. By the way, we were told that there were farms up on the mountain sides where young children had ropes around them to keep them from falling over the cliff edges. I’ve never run across that sort of thing, even in China.
Now you should have a picture of a mountainous country, riddled by tunnels and either covered in rock, trees or farms and lots of snow, with water, water everywhere. Our guide said he sees a day when Norway will be exporting water to the rest of the world.
I must also mention driving along hairpin turns with a bus. The roads take us from sea level to high in the mountains, usually with two-way traffic. Our driver, Martin (pronounced Mart’in), managed that thing like a large sedan. Oivind told us that the bus had rear-axel steering, but I don’t know about that. I do know that Martin went around some curves I would have taken a second look at while driving a car. But given how mountainous the country and how many tunnels we came to, coupled with the rise in elevation from sea level to maybe 5,000 feet or more, there was an abundance of hairpin turns. Of course, we all know that what goes up must come down… more switchbacks.
We started off the day driving through thick forest and lush farmland. We were supposed to have passed a stave church along the way but did not stop, possibly because we had to catch a ferry. I may have missed it because I was napping, still trying to catch up on the elusive sleep.
Our road took us up to 5,000 feet for a view from the Dalsnibba lookout point before descending into the valley on our way to Geirangerfjord for a trip down the fjord. Looking down over the mountain, we could see the kind of road Patsy and I used to joke about by saying, “Sure glad that’s not our road.” We don’t make that joke anymore since we have found ourselves in rough terrain more than once. Fortunately, we had Martin.
The ferry ride along the fjord would take us past the Seven Sisters Cascade. I counted them as we went by and only saw five waterfalls, so I suppose two of the sisters were out having coffee or something.
We docked at a town called Hellesylt where we took a picture with a giant troll statue. Trolls are an interesting phenomenon here in Norway. According to Oivind, every child is given a troll, usually a hand carved figure, when they are baptized. Trolls are supposed to guard the child although how this happens our guide didn’t say. He did tell us that he still had his, though.
According to the statue and others we would see along the way, trolls have very long noses, show big gap-toothed grins, are sort of pear-shaped and have ears like small elephants. They wear something like overalls for the men trolls, and have a tail stuck out the back, with a tuft on the end.
Norway is a Lutheran country, it’s the state religion, and yet they give trolls to infants for protection. Go figure. On the other hand, the landscape, with all its dark forests, waterfalls, and high snow- covered peaks seems to inspire things like trolls. If the creatures lived anywhere, it would be here.
We stayed that night in a town called Lom (no line through the O).
During our trip, we had one or two days with any blue sky showing; most of the time the sky was slightly overcast, not to the point of being depressive, but also not sunny. This morning we woke up to what Oivind called “Trollish” weather. Everything was misty, there was some light rain, and the forest seemed darker than usual.
Patsy and I were suspecting that we might be coming down with colds, but nothing too dramatic yet. We decided to go and get something for our sniffles.
We crossed cobblestone streets that even though they were very old, still seemed to have pedestrian crossings marked out in stripes. We found a Boots pharmacy (something we knew from the UK and Australia) and got something the pharmacist assured us would knock out the cold quickly. Fat Chance; whatever we had held on like our own personal trolls.
After leaving Lom, we drove along the shoreline of the Nordfjord toward the Jostedalsbreen glacier, Europe’s largest glacier. Our guide let us spend some time there, but cautioned us not to go too near the glacier. He said a few years back, a French tour guide took her group up near the foot of the glacier. While the guide was getting ready to take a tour photo, a piece of ice broke off and crashed down, killing half the group.
I saw no reason to walk all that way to get next to a gigantic block of ice.
After our visit to Jostedalsbreen, we visited the glacier museum and saw a 5-screen movie presentation about the glacier and about climate change. We also saw a diorama of Otzi (umlaut or double dots over the “O”, which gives it sort of an uhh sound) the mummy found in 1991. The man had probably lived around 3,300 BCE (Before Common Era), and maybe died around 3,239 BCE. Otzi was found near the border of Austria and Italy, if he had died in Norway, we probably would still not know anything about him because he would still be snowed in. We saw a display of the kind of clothing he wore, what tools he had with him, and his tattoos. These were primarily straight lines, possibly for either religious reasons or for medical reasons. His clothing looked remarkably like clothing worn by modern day Eskimos.
That afternoon, we took another ferry ride along the Sognefjord and Naeroyfjord (the slash through the “O” is not used in the word fjord) to Gudvangen and on to Stalheim, high above the Naeroydal valley.
As I understand it, the hotel burnt down a couple of times in the past. Nevertheless, they had some fine antique furniture and weapons including swords, pikes and halberds. There was a lovely statue of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child that luckily escaped the burning.
Again, it was raining lightly, and I was feeling less than prime, but we had to go outside to look at a German WWII machinegun nest on the hotel grounds. The nest was open so people could go inside, but I was not all that interested. Besides, looking over the edge of the cliff, I could not see an effective field of fire, unless maybe the Germans were expecting to be attacked by large birds. However, the view outside the nest was lovely.
By this time, Patsy and I were not feeling well at all. Our bus was for forty-one passengers, but we only had twenty-one and so we sat in the back of the bus where we would not be coughing all over other people. (Joke: what’s the definition of coffee? Someone who gets coughed on.)
Here is an insight I had about Norway: it is a tidy country. The only graffiti we saw, and there was some, was in the larger towns. The rest of the country looked like people painted their houses just as soon as it stopped raining or snowing. The Norwegians also used some nice color combinations, like light green walls picked out with a darker green around the windows and doors. I wish I could attach photos to these logs, but I don’t know how (remember I call these Dinosaur logs?).
Anyway, the color combinations aren’t as lively as say, the Caribbean, but they do make the effort.
We saw many old buildings along the way. Traditional food storage buildings are set up on blocks to frustrate rodents and such. Quite a few of the buildings had what we call ‘soddies’ rooves, that is, they have grass sods in place of shingles, which helps to insulate the building. But there are other roof materials such as glazed tiles (Oivind said these come from the Netherlands), slate and shingles. When slate is used, the builder seems to either turn the pieces so they for diamond shapes, or cut the slate to look like fish scales. Patsy likes the fish scale design the best.
We were on our way to ride the Flam railroad, which would take us high into the mountains for more breathtaking views. (Yes, there is a tiny ‘o’ over the ‘a’, which again gives it the ‘aw’ sound. If they wanted it to say ‘aw,’ why didn’t they spell it that way?) The Flam is an electric train and has some twenty tunnels (this is Norway, remember), and one bridge. It is the steepest rail line in Europe and takes you over some of the most striking landscape.
I keep wanting to say ‘pretty’ but Norway doesn’t do pretty, as much as breath-taking or dramatic. Even the painted houses I keep mentioning are stronger than the word ‘pretty’ implies.
But I digress. It was snowing lightly while we were in the station and I thought about trying to catch a snowflake on my tongue. I have heard people do in snow country and this might be my only chance to try it. Then I stopped and thought about what it would look like; an old codger walking around with his tongue out, and forgot about it.
Down below the station were two houses that were the kind I was speaking about earlier. They both looked like doll-houses. The first was painted a custard color, with red trim around white window frames. The roof was the slate diamond pattern. Right next to it was a small house painted apple green with the same custard color around the windows and doors, again more stalwart than pretty. On this house, the tile was cut to the fish scale pattern; you can probably understand what I meant about neatness.
The Flam rail took us up to a town called Stalheim where we stayed for the night at a ski resort that I think they opened just for us because we were the only people in the place, which was a tip-off. Since it was a ski lodge, they had plenty of snow around the place, but we were warm inside.
The hotel walls were picked out in red with white around the doors and windows, and there was a great fireplace inside. Near the fireplace, they had one of the fanciest things I have ever seen: a Hardanger Fiddle. If you get the chance, please Google this thing, because not only is it difficult to describe, but it is also played differently than a regular violin, but let me give it a try.
At the outset, this thing looks like something someone with a lot of time on their hand would make. The violin had a floral pattern engraved around the top of the body and the stringboard had mother-of-pearl inlays. The string pegs (more than the usual four) were also decorated with either bits of m-o-p or bone, and the tailpiece, the long bit that holds the strings after they pass over the bridge, was inlaid as well. The violin had nine strings, the usual four, with a series of sympathetic strings and drones. I know that I am going on about the instrument for a while, but really, if you see it you can understand why.
Our dinner that night was special, with fish of course, but also chicken and soup. We have fallen in love with the Norwegian goat cheese, called Gjetost, and plan to try to find it back home. It is brown, soft, and nutty in flavor. If you can find it, buy some and try it; if you like cheese at all, this stuff will become a favorite. Every meal, including breakfast, had a cheese spread, not to mention salami, fish of some sort, and sometimes liver paste.
Yet another observation about Norwegians: all the ones we met spoke good English. The train conductor that I mentioned earlier did not speak it, but everyone else we met did, including a counter-woman at a little hole-in-the-wall place we stopped by for a sandwich. Almost none of them has much of an accent, either. We used to listen to A Prairie Home Companion on NPR, and I thought we would hear more of a sing-song pattern to the speech, but most of what we heard spoken could have passed for someone who came from Ohio or Kansas. Martin did say that he had a hard time learning Norwegian because of some vocal emphasis. We have that too, think of the difference between ‘THIS is really big,’ and ‘This is REALLY big.’
Today we would head for Bergen, once the capital of Norway from around 1030 until 14th century. Bergen (or Bryggen) was a Hanseatic League port, the Hansas were merchants who controlled the dried codfish trade in Europe, along with other forms of commerce. I particularly wanted to visit the Hanseatic museum in Bergen, but didn’t get the chance.
Bergen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because rows of buildings that had been fish merchant housing during the Hansa period are still in use. We walked along the waterfront past the fish market, which was much like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Several of the booths offered tastes of their wares – in particular, one that sold eels. For some reason, eels have always bothered me, and I was tempted to try a bit, but chickened out.
Further along the shore of the fjord, we walked through wooden alleyways where you could touch both walls with your fingers if you stretched your arms out, and where there were still open spaces used by medieval merchants to inspect whatever was being offered and to haul their purchases up into warehouses over their living quarters.
There was a sailing ship named Sorlandet (slashed o) docked in the harbor when we were there. It is the oldest full rigged ship in the world still in operation. The Sorlandet is now a sea going school, offering high school and university studies as well as techniques of sailing. Anyone who has ever watched movies about Tall Ships would recognize this lovely old vessel. It is steel hulled, carries three masts, and looks like an explosion in a laundry when in full sail.
On the way to Telemark, our next big stop, we dropped in at the Steinsto farm (slash through the o, but instead of a full slash, they penciled in some leaves at the top of the o and put a dimple at the bottom, so it looks like an apple lying on its side), a cider producing farm owned by the same family for eight generations. Wow.
Apples grow quite well here in Norway, and we were happy to stop and sample the wares at Steinsto. Along with the cider, they also produce a hard cider that was warm, but deceptive; it could rock your clock if you weren’t paying attention. There were several pieces of folk art on the walls, including some samples of folk embroidery, which Patsy took pictures of.
We had another ferry trip across the Hardangerfjord through orchard country, and past Latefoss (no slash, but a little ‘o’ over the a), across the Hardangervidda mountain plateau to Telemark (I know these names don’t do anything for you, but they are fun to use, just don’t get involved in trying to pronounce them)
Two things about Telemark: it was the site of a ‘heavy water’ plant which during WWII, the Germans needed to produce an atomic bomb; it is also the site of one of the biggest hydroelectric plants around. Heavy water is just regular water with a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope Deuterium. That acts as a brake in nuclear reactions, but otherwise, nothing special; you could drink heavy water if you wanted to without any problems, so we were told. The Deuterium is a by-product of artificial fertilizer production, and apparently, the Norwegians were stock-piling the stuff for the United States. If the Germans had gotten the heavy water out of Norway, they could have produced atomic bombs way before the US, and used them to end the war. Imagine if London or Moscow had been hit with an atomic bomb.
Anyway, a group of saboteurs sank the ferry that was used transport the water to Germany. if you are interested, there is a movie called “The Heroes of Telemark” about that them saboteurs went through.
Let me digress for a moment to talk about the hydroelectric thing. Imagine a large white building at the base of a tall cliff, with many steel tubes coming down the face rather than the usual waterfalls. The water contained in the pipes pushed large turbines and made electricity which was the source of power for the plant.
Hydroelectric power is also one of the things to understand about Norway. Yes, they have oil, but more than half their energy production is hydroelectric. Given the number of waterfalls and rivers we saw, this would be no surprise to us. Oivind said that Norway is looking to supply much of the rest of Europe with power in the future.
Now this next thing is really a hoot. After we left Telemark, we travelled down through the Vestfjorddalen valley, through the small town of Rjukan. Because of the narrowness of the valley and its orientation, the town is without sun from October to March. Talk about your Seasonal Affective Disorder, this would be the place for one. However, in 1913, a bookkeeper came up with an idea of using giant mirrors to reflect light down into the town. Well, he couldn’t get it done, but in 2003, someone did do it, and now they have year around sunlight in the main plaza. We saw the giant mirrors up high on the mountain, reflecting light down into the valley. This is the kind of stuff Disney World might come up with and try to convince us it was real, but here it was.
If going to Telemark and seeing the mirrors of Rjukan wasn’t enough for the day, we stopped at the Heddal Stave Church on our way back to Oslo. This is an enormous wooden church that was started in the 13th century and is the largest stave church in Norway. The term ‘stave’ refers to the pillars holding up the walls. These pillars are massive wooden posts that were grown for their purpose. According to the historian who spoke to us about the church, the trees selected for posts had their tops cut, but the remaining trunks were left alone to grow for several years until they got to be the size needed.
When the church was built, the state religion was Catholic, then changed during the Lutheran Reformation. I don’t know much about Lutheranism, but I think there are still some Catholic relics in the church, notably a large depiction of Christ on the cross over the transept, and I think there might have been a Mary statue over the altar.
A couple of observations: men and women sat on opposite sides of the church and entered through side doors leading off a passage or gallery that lead around the church from the front door. There were dragons over the men’s entry, but not over the women’s. Our historian said that he thought it either meant that the men were the protectors of the women and therefore the dragons, or they needed the protection and the women didn’t. This drew a few chuckles from the women in our group.
The other thing was there were stab holes in the wall, not large enough to be apparent, but our guide said that the men would jamb their daggers into the walls so they had a place to hang their hats.
Legend has it that the church was built in three days by a mountain troll, who made a bargain with one of the Christians: he would build the structure, but the Christian had to give him the sun and the moon, give the troll his Christian’s life’s blood, or guess the troll’s name within the three days. Quite by accident, the Christian overheard a mother troll talking her son and she called him Finn. The next day, the Christian called the troll by his name and escaped having to die.
I really recommend looking Heddal Stave Church up on Google, it is well worth it, and you get more of a sense of what I am talking about. This is one enormous structure. (Smart aleck comment: along with all the other stuff in the church, there is an ornately carved bishop’s chair. A bishop’s chair has arms and is called a cathedra (Latin for chair with arms), so in effect, this church could have once been considered a cathedral, it certainly is large enough.)
After Heddal, we went back to Oslo. On the way there, we stopped at another ski jump, Holmenkollbakken, but this jump was a bit different from the one we saw at Lillehammer. Imagine if you will, a very steep hill about five hundred feet high, with a ski jump along its front. Seen from the ground, the ski jump looked a lot like a firetruck extension ladder. Now, get rid of the hill but visualize the ladder still in place, stuck out like firemen were trying to rescue someone from a very tall, very invisible building. This is Holmenkollbakken, a ski-flying slope.
Ski flying is different from the Olympic ski jumping. While Olympic ski jumping is evaluated according to the distance traveled and the style performed, the object to ski flying is to hang in the air after a take-off as well as style. If I am reading the information correctly, the record is 139.5 meters, or close to 440 feet in the air. Again, wow!
Along the bleachers area below the jump and the pathway around it, people were doing things like using roller skis (something like small ski shaped skateboards with the wheels outside the board), which allow a person to mimic skiing without snow. I also saw a woman jumping up and down between levels of bleachers and thought she was crazy until I realized she was practicing jumping off moguls. My hips hurt just watching her.
Outside the bleacher area there is a statue of the Norwegian king, Olaf V, skiing, along with his dog running by his side.
Oivind said that he met the king one time while out skiing. He said that the king did that often so that he could meet the citizens of Norway. Supposedly, someone asked the king if he didn’t feel the need for protection and he supposedly answered that he had over three million people to protect him.
That night, we had dinner at a place whose décor included strings of dried codfish fillets near the roof. The fish looked like big white wedges with tails. I can’t say these were the real thing or not, but you get the idea.
We started off the morning with a visit to Frogner Park outside Oslo. This is a large park filled with the work of Gustav Vigeland, who was Norway’s most famous sculptor (b:1869 – d:1943). He made a deal with Oslo: in exchange for a house and a park to display his work, all subsequent pieces of art work would belong to the city. There are 212 bronze and granite sculptures in the park.
Vigeland modeled all his work in clay and then turned molds of the sculptures over to bronze casters and stone sculptors to compete. Every piece except for the frieze of small panels around the base of the central monolith are life sized, all nude, and are doing almost everything from playing to fighting. One sculpture has a woman on her hands and knees with a small boy and girl riding her back, the boy using her hair braids as a bridle. Another statue is of a boy, maybe two or three years old, angry and stamping his foot.
I especially liked two pieces that stood near each other: first was a group of four young girls, leaning over and looking at something, laughing (Oivind said he thinks the girls are looking at some young boys). Right behind the girls was a statue of a man and a woman with their shoulders on the ground and their feet in the air, facing each other. God only knows why they would do such a thing, but both these two groupings made me laugh. (You can see this as well as other sculptures by Googling.)
The central item in the park is the 46ft high Monolith, made up of 121 human figures adult men and women, young people, children and babies, all spiraling around each other and rising towards the sky. It is carved from a single piece of granite. Amazing.
Next on our list of places to visit was the Viking Ship Museum, or Vikingskipshuset for those in the know (Oivind pronounced Viking with the ‘e’ sound, Veekeeng, and used the word as both a noun and a verb).
Inside this hall, which looks like a ship turned upside down, is the Oseberg Burial Ship, built around 820 CE. It was an exceptionally fine ship, had room for 30 oarsmen, and had been dragged on shore and buried in a pit as a burial monument for two women. No one knows who they were, but they must have been very important to have such a grave.
There was a burial chamber behind the mast which had been filled with tapestries and other fine things including sleighs and a cart, tools, ship equipment, and cooking utensils. There were also some horses, dogs and a couple of cows. This was some big to-do, let me tell you.
The prow of the ship is carved with interlaced animal figures and rises upward into a curled serpent head. Since some of the carving on the prow would have been below the water level, this ship must have been made for special purposes and not just to go Viking.
Along the walls were various exhibits, including four heavily carved animal heads, approximately the size of a softball or maybe a bit larger. Their use is unknown, but whatever it was, they are beautifully carved and required a lot of time to make.
After our visit to the museum, we went to the Kon-Tiki Museum (Norwegian: Kon-Tiki Museet), a museum on the Bygdoy peninsula in Oslo.
The museum houses the Kon-Tiki, a raft built of balsa wood logs, along with the maps used on the 1947 expedition. Thor Heyerdahl sailed the Kon-Tiki from Peru to the Polynesian Islands because he wanted to determine if people from Peru could have crossed the Pacific Ocean. (Hey, it was something to do.) Those of us who are old enough may remember the exciting news clips in theaters about the voyage.
The museum also houses the Ra II, a reed boat built along the lines of what might have been used in ancient Egypt. Heyerdahl had this built also and then used it to sail from North Africa to the Caribbean Islands in 1970. He wanted to prove that it was possible that Mediterranean people visited the New World and influenced the people there. Incidentally, RA I got waterlogged and sank before it could be used for the voyage.
Of course, it is impossible to prove either of these ideas were true, since there are no written accounts of such exchanges, but Heyerdahl showed that it could have been done.
When you first see either of these two boats, you think that maybe they would be good on a local lake or some other place like that, but not on the open ocean, especially when Ra I sank.
After the museum visits, we had a short break and then went to our farewell dinner at the Engebret Café, a famous gathering spot for artists and politicians in the 1890s. Both Henrik Ibsen, the author who wrote the play Peer Gynt, and Edvard Grieg, the composer who wrote the famous music based on the play, used to meet friends at the Engebret, so we had dinner at a famous place as the end of our tour. I wish I could tell you what we had to eat, I do remember it was fish, but after that, who knows.
The next morning, we were up at 4:00 A.M. to go to the Oslo airport. Our trip home was l-o-n-g and uneventful, although we did have a four-hour layover at Heathrow, and again they played around with our flight, not posting the gate information until a half hour before we were to start loading.
Since we were heading west, we gained hours as we passed through different time zones (example: when it was 4:00 A.M. in Oslo, it was 3:00 in London, our next stop). We got back to Las Vegas at midnight on the same calendar day we left Oslo, so who knows how long we were awake again, it was enough that we did it. I have no interest in calculating the hours of misery we went through getting home.
We were both in the “just shoot me” stage of our colds and would have been miserable in first class, much less in steerage, where we were. Finally, though, we were home and we could cough and blow our noses without worrying other people.
I usually have a running commentary about food and beer in these logs, but we were under the weather and I didn’t take good notes. I will tell you that there was a selection of cheeses at every breakfast, and that smoked peppered mackerel is probably not the best thing to have first thing in the morning, especially if one is inclined to burp now and then. We could have other things as well, including waffles. Norwegian waffles are soft, thin, and divided into six petal-like segments, not much like thick crunchy Belgian waffles.
Oivind mentioned Cloudberry Jam as his favorite thing to put on waffles, but we never found any of that. I did learn that the berry is used to flavor Akvavit (a Scandinavian liquor that can cauterize your throat), so if someone is curious enough about this berry, they can try drinking Akvavit. Good luck on that.
Well, that’s my log for our Norwegian trip. Thanks for coming along, I hope you had some laughs and that I gave you some idea about Norway.
Until next time, so long.