You know what I did when I was five weeks pregnant? I went to Norway for work. Not quite the same Herculean feat as winning an Olympic gold medal, but you know, still kind of intense.
|The Littlest Senge in Norway...|
|Waiting to confirm the good news.|
Ultimately, it was a great trip, but my strongest memory and take-away was overwhelming nausea. So much so that I could hardly talk about the trip once I got back, which definitely confused a few people, since I couldn't yet explain why. I couldn't even look at the clothes I'd brought with me without wanting to throw up, I can't even remember how long it was before I could wear some of them again.
Five months later, remembering or talking about or looking at something from the trip can still make my stomach lurch. And the photos? Forget about it, I couldn't stand to look at them for ages (which is why none of you have seen them yet - until now!). Unfortunately, I had ended up with a hard drive full of the group's photos and had to upload them all to our shared server so the whole team could reference them. Due to computer issues, that process made me sick for hours and hours and hours and made me want to look at my own photos that much less. But with a bit of time between me and the trip, and with the worst of the morning sickness behind me, I can start to look back at the photographic evidence.
I can still barely believe that I was there, and that I did all that we did. Sorry for the massive scrolldown photo post, but it's the only way I can get through it!!
In the 1,700+ photos I shot, I wish I'd better captured the many different modes of transport we used (every mode except ski/sled/animal), and how many miles we traveled within the country (Google calculates roughly 1,258km or 781mi), and the range of various accommodations we stayed in (and toilet/shower facilities we used)... But here is a brief overview of our itinerary so you can get an idea of what we did:
Saturday 4/28, Sunday 4/29 - Oslo: Husfliden, Akershus Castle, Karl Johan's Gate, Museum of Decorative Arts & Design, dinner at Holmenkollen Park Hotel, driving tour of Oslo including stop at Vår Freslsers Gravlund (Cemetery of Our Savior), National Gallery, Viking Ship Museum, Fram Museum, Kon-Tiki Museum, Norsk Folkemuseum
Monday 4/30 - Trondheim: Nidarosdomen Cathedral, Trøndelag Folkemuseum, Ringve Musical Instrument Museum, Bakklandet
Tuesday 5/1 - Røros: Husfliden and Bunad costume-making, Røros church, Sleggveien, Rørosrein (Sami reindeer herding family business), Røros Museum
Wednesday 5/2 - Geiranger: 8 hour drive to Geiranger, private boat tour of Geiranger fjord, Studebaker touring car drive to Flydalsjuvet outlook of fjord, overnight in historic Union Hotel.
Thursday 5/3 - Balestrand: 8 hour drive to Balestrand, including stop at Briksdal Glacier and ride in a "troll car," private boat tour of Sognefjord and historic waterfront homes, stayed in historic Kviknes Hotel.
Friday 5/4 - Balestrand, Borgund church, Flåm: Photo safari walk through Balestrand, Express Boat ferry to Flåm, drive to Borgund Stave Church, dinner at Fretheim Hotel, Flåmsbana (aka Flåm Railway), commuter train to Bergen
Saturday 5/5 - Bergen: Fløibanen (Bergen Funicular), Old Bryggen, Husfliden, Edvard Grieg's home and museum (Troldhaugen), Fantoft Stave Church.
Here's roughly what that looks like, according to Google Maps:
|The 1258km driving tour of Norway.|
Above: Akershus Castle/Fortress and Castle Church. Below: Akershus dungeon.
A cross from the cemetery where many of Norway's most notable people rest.
The Viking ships from the Viking Ship Museum. Totally amazing. Hard to grasp the scale from these photos but the ships are pretty massive and intimidating. I totally got how they could come sneaking up on you and I can totally imagine the panic when you realized what was approaching and how close they were...
|Oslo's Husfliden shop|
There are around thirty Husfliden, or handicraft, shops in Norway. They sell amazing handicrafts and handicraft supplies. I think it's awesome that every kid in Norway learns to knit in school. What a great skill! I wished that I'd needed some knitting needles or supplies, or that I was better at knitting. The selections made me swoon, as did the astronomical price of everything in Norway. I just couldn't justify the cost unless it was something I really, really couldn't leave without. I really loved the traditional national costumes, or "bunad," and kind of wished I could have gotten one for myself (or Alice!). You can order yours at any Husfliden shop, I shudder to think how much the whole ensemble costs...
We saw Skrik (aka The Scream) by Edvard Munch, as well as a view of the landscape where he saw a sunset that inspired the painting. He painted four versions, the one we saw in the Nasjonalgalleriet is the first of the four. Very cool.Norsk Folkemuseum has a huge indoor gallery and outdoor exhibit containing around 150 structures from all over Norway that have been moved, reassembled, and preserved at the museum. It was a fascinating collection. The oldest building, the Gol Stave Church, was built in 1200. It was under renovation while we were there and we weren't able to see it, unfortunately.
It was amazing to see these structures from the 16th and 17th centuries, wooden buildings still standing solid as a rock. The texture of the wood, inside and out, was absolutely incredible.
I just loved this rustic fence and the serenity of the environment. The birch trees had all just sprouted these delicate, yellow leaves and the whole landscape practically glowed in the sunlight.
In Trondheim, we were unable to go inside the Royal Residence as it hadn't yet opened for the season and was undergoing major work to renovate the sprinkler system (very important for historical wooden buildings all over Norway, which have a long tradition of burning up entire neighborhoods). Fortunately, we were able to sneak inside another similar building.
The Royal Residence building was originally a regular home that one prominent woman-about-town built to outshine her friends' homes nearby. Those friends' two houses also still stand and one of them is currently operating as a day center for elderly retirees. Our guide popped in to the cafe inside to ask if we could look around and this spry woman immediately sprung to action. At first, I thought she worked there, but I'm pretty sure she was just a regular patron.
She insisted on showing us almost every room of the facility and telling us about all of their services (hair salon, legal counsel, lending library, etc). We were even lucky to get a peek inside what would have been the original home's grand salon which is currently the venue for the daily exercise class (hich was going to start any moment while we were there - a room full of elderly ladies watched curiously as we admired the wall murals. The room is also available for special occasion rentals. At the end of our tour (in the photo below), our new friend told us that she had celebrated her 70th birthday in that room, and that today she was celebrating another birthday. She was thrilled when we hung around to order coffee and treats and sat at the cafe table next to her and her friends, and even more thrilled (to tears, in fact) when we sang "Happy Birthday" to her. She even gave us each a piece of "American" chocolate (Hershey's Bliss squares) that her cousin had sent for her birthday. It was quite the unexpected highlight of our day...
We visited the Nidarosdomen Cathedral and learned a lot from the young docent. I learned that she is commonly mistaken for a member of the convent, due to the robes she wears. In reality, she is a young, newlywed art student. Later in the day, we got a bonus visit to the Ringve Museum of Musical Instruments. We weren't planning to visit, but our guide also worked there and offered to open it up just for us and give us a private tour. It was a great collection of all kinds of historical and unusual instruments, including this crazy piano.
This was the last stop on our itinerary and the day had gone much longer than we'd planned. I'd already been falling asleep in the car on the way over, and someone caught a photo of me sleeping on my feet. It makes me tired just to look at this.
|Left: Nidarosdomen cathedral in the distance. Right: Trondheim on the water.|
Røros was one of my favorite stops. Røros is an old copper mining town and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Mining began there in the mid-17th century and didn't stop until the Røros Copper Works went bankrupt 333 years later, in 1977. The old smeltery burned down but was rebuilt in convincingly authentic fashion and now houses the mining museum with fascinating scale models of the mining process. I was sort of expecting a ghost town but it's actually a really desirable place to live with a pretty vibrant community and thriving, modern industry. People still work in buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and if you belong to the right organizations, you can actually rent some of the buildings for very unique vacation accommodations.
|Old snow on the slag heaps, with Sleggveien in the distance.|
Behind the smeltery are huge mountains of slag, a byproduct of smelting. Nestled among the slag are the houses of Sleggveien, or "Slag Street." This is where the town's poorest people would have lived. The nearest house on the right was rumored to house a family of eleven in one tiny single room.
The couple who run the business were absolutely delightful. They were just so warm and friendly and educational; it was a truly wonderful experience, largely because of their amazing energy. Here is one half of the couple we met (who is also a top-notch musician - he's played the Hardanger fiddle all over the world - even for Saddam Hussein!), demonstrating how his reindeer coat can keep him exceptionally warm even during the coldest, snowiest winter day. I hope he also has a reindeer hat...
|He's crouched down so the coat can cover his legs and contain his body heat within.|
And then we got to meet all the reindeer! We fed them lichen and they ate right out of our hands. One of them was very willing to let us all give him big hugs around the neck. So awesome.
We got to see a ton of the countryside and lots of spectacular landscapes during our drives. Unfortunately, it was hard to take photos through the windows while bouncing along in the car, and after a while, you start to take for granted that each little village and stream and waterfall and mountain peak will be more picturesque than the last.
Once we got to Geiranger though, we were in for a treat. We climbed into a tiny boat with an outboard motor and had our own private tour of the fjord. We were there just before the summer tourist season was in full swing, when the fjords are full of all manner of cruise ships and sightseeing boats and ferries. We saw one other two-man boat, parked and fishing, and that was it. We literally had the whole fjord all to ourselves.
Here I am on the boat, trying to hang on to that little embryo. Once our driver found out I was pregnant, he moved me to a less bouncy seat behind the wheel...
|The view of Geiranger town and fjord from my room at the Union Hotel.|
|Trolls live here. And probably elves and fairies.|
There was also this very ominous outpost at the base of the glacier with a bunch of abandoned tents and boats and piles of life vests and helmets, and this army of empty boots. I'm sure it was all just waiting for the next slew of tourists, but it was a bit eery, as though some huge group of outdoorsmen had vanished out of their boots and into thin air moments before we walked up...
Once we arrived in Balestrand, we hopped on board a nice big power boat and saw the sights of Balestrand by way of the Sognefjord. Our guide was a local grandmother-type who was a long-time teacher, about to retire, who was also an artist with a gallery right next to our hotel. She had, in fact, taught our boat captain in school, who was now the owner of one of the largest companies in town which offered a multitude of services. He was really a jack-of-all-trades who collected American cars, including a Peterbilt semi-truck, built several homes in town by hand, and somehow got roped into taking us on a tour because he had the biggest boat in town. Good stuff.
We saw some beautiful homes from the water, including this marvelous example of dragestil or "dragon style" architecture.
The next day, we took a ferry from Balestrand to Flåm and then drove out to see the Borgund stave church. We learned that the wood buildings in Norway are typically coated with tar to preserve them and protect them from the elements (because if Norway has plenty of anything, it's trees and oil). The Borgund church had been freshly tarred, just before we arrived, so we were careful not to lean on any thing... Built sometime between 1180 and 1250, it is one of the oldest and is the best preserved of Norway's 28 existing stave churches. It was a really striking sight, and we had the place all to ourselves.
This exterior door featured the carved "signatures" of many centuries worth of pilgrims. Before the public could read and write, they used symbols for their families. The docent hypothesized that since many Norwegians emigrated to America, these symbols could well have been the forerunners to cattle branding symbols. An interesting theory...
Fretheim Hotel, we hurried off to catch our Flåmsbana train. I think there were maybe 5-10 other people on the whole train, and we definitely had an entire car to ourselves. The five of us each claimed a set of windows, one on each side, that rolled down. We ran from one side of the car to the other, exclaiming over each new curve in the track and snapping endless photos of the beautiful landscape. The Flåm railway is the steepest standard gauge rail line in Europe, at 5.5% (1:18) with an elevation increase of 2,835 feet over 12 miles. There are nine stops on the line, and twenty tunnels. It seemed like every time we went through a tunnel, the weather and landscape became more and more winterly. Here's a view from the first stretch, looking back toward Flåm.
The Polar Express. I may have squealed like a child.
|Me and the Kjosfossen. This photo does not adequately capture my utter delight.|
And then coming out of the next tunnel, we were met with this magical winter wonderland. We stopped somewhere at the height of this snowy landscape and caught our commuter connection to Bergen, I settled right into my seat and finished reading The Help.
We started our day in Bergen with a trip on the Fløibanen, or funicular. We enjoyed a super chilly overview of Bergen, from above. I believe it had snowed on and off during breakfast that morning...
|On our way to the overlook.|
|View of Bergen from above.|
At some point, later that day, we drove down to a pier near the water and there was an honest-to-goodness German submarine there. I inquired about it, and our guide surmised that it was visiting, perhaps the Norwegian Naval Academy? I can't remember now. But it was a rather unsettling sight, given the very active Norwegian resistance movement during the war. That's a whole other history that was interspersed within our tour, popping up here and there. I didn't have time to study or read anything before we left and we didn't have time to visit the resistance museum in Oslo, but there are some incredible stories of heroics that I would love to learn more about.
Our next stop of the day the Bryggen, the old warehouse area on the harbor. Our guide led us all through the the little warrens and alleyways which used to house all manner of trade goods and now function as swanky artist and artisan shops and studios. The Bryggen museum wasn't open, but we peeked in the window at the excavation and our guide told us that Norway, and Bergen in particular, had a long, long history of importing things from all around the world, due to their sophisticated seafaring culture. The things they had uncovered at this site, and what they had learned about life there in the 14th century sounded fascinating.
|alleys of the Bryggen area.|
|A huge wood carving of a disgusting dried cod. They are seriously monstrous looking.|
|here's the bottom door|
|and the view from the top!|
Since we were there on a Saturday during the official high season, we got to see one of the Buekorps brigades marching about. The Buekorps, or "Bow Corps," are "traditional marching youth organizations" unique to Bergen. Originally, these were battalions of young boys imitating the city militia, who would engage in "warfare" with other battalions. Around the 1850s, they started to evolve in the upstanding, entirely youth-run civic institution they are today (think Boy Scouts, but with more military influence). There have been at least 200 battalions since the 1850s, with 14 currently existing.
|A buekorps statue. I didn't make a note, but I believe it honored the buekorps veterans killed during the war.|
|The composer's cottage at Troldhaugen.|
|magical troll landscape.|
|A little jetty, past the Griegs' resting place.|
So that's it, in a super long, scrolldown nutshell. I was totally impressed by Norway's breathtaking landscape and can easily see how they have such a rich history of troll legends. I kept thinking what a magical place it would be for imaginative little children, and what a great introduction to world travel it would be for little ones. Despite the circuitous routes around mountains and fjords, it was a really easy place to get around and extremely friendly to Western travelers. I would love to go back with the family someday, once my body has forgotten the association with morning sickness. Though I don't think I'll ever be able to stomach reindeer meat...