Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Norge in a Nutshell

It is said, "If you want culture, go to Copnehagen. If you want nature, go to Norway". Last weekend we went to Norway and it gave us all the nature we could hold and more. I absolutely loved it, perhaps because Norway's landscape reminds me so much of the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps because the people are laid back and friendly or perhaps simply because we were just away from Denmark. It took some interesting travel logistics to get us where we want to go and Rick Steves would have been proud. Traveling without a car, our connections were tight but never rushed, and often just steps from accomodation to transportation.

Here's how it went: Thursday we took the overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo, Norway. We had a 4 bunk berth with private bath and a window which was comfortable and cozy. There were at least 5 restaurants and numerous bars on board as well as a movie theater, kids disco, swimming pool and huge shop. We dined at the classical Norwegian all-you-can-eat buffet. Lots of fish, not much salad. The next morning we rose to gray skies and rain, but that was it for the rest of the trip. After breakfasting on Baresso coffee and breads and Molly played at the lego area, we pulled into Norway's capital city and walked from the ferry to the Central Train Station, about 15 minutes.

After picking up our train tickets we boarded the train heading north into the mountains. The first train ride lasted about 5 hours and took us from city to mountains then above tree line into glacial melt and villages surrounded by melting snow. Eventually we came to the town of Myrdal and switched to the second train (5 minutes between) that was the most scenic train ride I've ever experienced. The historic train line was built in the early 1900's, zig-zagging back and forth through mountains and into the Flome Valley. 22 tunnels had to be bored to make it possible. This one-hour ride stops for tourists to take pictures of the waterfalls and pastural landscape as you drop into the beginning of the Sognefjord. I was so overcome with emotion that I actually cried.

We arrived in Flome, a frontier town designed as a connection from tourist train to fjord ferries. While others made connections we hunkered down for the night in a beautiful new hotel, with a family room made just for us. We enjoyed beers and sodas on the deck in the sunshine, looking out over the fjord. The town was so quiet and undisturbed. I guess in the peak season, the town explodes with business.

The next morning I got up early to hike to a nearby waterfall and catch some views. Then, after breakfast we booked and went out on kayaks on the water! It had to be the best weather and water conditions I've ever experienced: clear blue skies, 70 degrees and water as still as ice. Irvin, from Wisconsin was our guide and we messed around in double kayaks for an hour and then headed back in. Unfortunately he had another tour so ours couldn't run longer.

We hung out in the town a little longer to watch the hordes of tourists roll in and out and then caught the high speed ferry to Bergen. This catamaran took us 5 hours from the end of Sognefjord and the highest mountain peaks all the way to the ocean and weaved throughout hundreds of islands in the archpelago of Norway. The captain would slow down every once and a while to point out features, but for the most part we kept going. Once he announced, "to the right you will see the North Sea and.... the sun", which gave us a good laugh. Speaking of the sun, daylight in Norway at this time of year is about 21 hours and even at midnight or 1 am it's never really dark.

Bergen is a historic fishing village with it's own characteristics separate from the rest of Norway. I was surprised how interesting and adorable the town was. Getting off the ferry, our hotel was only a 5 minute walk. After getting our room arranged for sleeping and a late dinner we fell to sleep around 11:30. It had been a long day.

Sunday, our last day, was spent sightseeing around Bergen. Maya had some homework to finish and we were all a little tired, so we mostly stayed in the downtown area - the fish market, the castle, harbor and old fishing quarter. As our big adventure we took the funicular (steep train car) up the mountain to this viewpoint overlooking the city, islands and sea. Again, it couldn't have been a more beautiful day which is rare for Bergen, a city that gets 80 inches of rain annually! This viewpoint had trails and outdoor playgrounds and all sorts of activities up above. We messed around, had a hot dog and then walked the popular trail back down to the city.

He had to dine on local fish and chips right in the harbor, then gathered our things at the hotel and taxi'd to the airport. Funny, how it took 3 days to get to that point, but only 1 hour and 15 minutes to fly back to Copenhagen. The next day was hard on everybody, especially Craig who flew to China for a 7 day trip. It was the kind of travelling that is hard on our bodies - irregular eating, poor sleep, sitting for lengths of time. "Power travel".

I'm now just counting the hours and days until we leave. The weather is crummy with no sign of bettering. I'm slowly packing, tossing, selling, organizing our belongings. I've managed to pre-sell about 70 household items to friends and ex-pat aquaintances. Now it's a matter of when to make the exchange, based on how badly we need that item. Dressers, alarm clocks, telephones, hair dryer, drill, tvs, bike, etc. I'd say that's a common feeling among other moms at CIS. Everybody's ready for school to be done and to get on with leaving to whevever it is they will spend the summer. Copenhagen isn't bad when the weather is nice. But if it's summer and one must wear coats then let's just get the heck out of town.

The packers arrive June 23rd, same day as Maya and Molly's school party days. We're moving into a small hotel in the Trianglen Square for 2 days while the packing is going on. Last day of school is June 24th, Maya graduates from 5th grade, we celebrate and the next morning we leave for Croatia. Closing down life here is nothing compared to what I went through last summer, moving from Portland. I have no anxieties or stress. Very few utilities to shut down, not many farewells and good-byes. We'll quietly slip out of the city as quietly and as unnoticed as when we arrived.

I am longing for a constant to return to our lives. To not have to put on my coat of armour before I walk out the door. To knowing and understanding how things work and relax amongst friends and peers. We are in limbo - not really belonging anywhere except amongst ourselves. But that's powerful in itself.

We congratulate all the Portland students who have finished their school year and SO WISH we could have been part of the 5th grade clap-out at Rieke. An era has passed.

Love and Light,
Mary Jo
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