Sunday, June 13, 2010

Those Pictures from Norway

It takes a long time to get from rural Minnesota to the other side of the world . . . even if you are only going to one of the Scandinavian countries, and taking a hop over a lot of ice! Our journey began on Tuesday afternoon, May 11. We drove an hour to Rochester, where we met up with Rich's niece and her husband, who took possession of his parent's car for two weeks. We then caught a shuttle to Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. We were flying out on Icelandic Airlines . . . and thanks to their now famous volcano, our flight was delayed for 3 hours. Fortunately, it was just delayed, and not canceled. We flew through the night, about 6 hours, and changed planes in Iceland. Nothing to report about that leg of the journey. It was dark so no looking out the window. It is another 2.5 hour flight from Iceland to Oslo, the capital of Norway. Below is the view outside the window as we flew over the Western Coast of Norway. If you look closely, you can see some of the fjords, and then great snowy mountains. We arrived in Norway and then tried to figure out how to get from the airport, which lays North of Oslo, into Oslo proper. Here is a WARNING to all travelers to Oslo. DO NOT . . . I repeat . . . DO NOT catch a taxi cab from the airport. The sum for our 30 mile trip was well over $200 US, when you exchange to the Norwegian Kroner. Take the train!! It was a rude awakening to this prosperous country. It is terribly expensive to live and to visit this country! Fortunately we were spending most of our time visiting family. It was planned for us to spend 2 days in Oslo, to see the Capital, and to visit with Grethe, a friend of the family. She manages the Rica Hotel in downtown Oslo, and she had arranged for a couple of suites for our use. They were beautiful rooms, and a bottle of champagne greeted Rich and I, congratulating us on our wedding. After settling into our rooms, Rich and I and his father decided to take a walk. Our destination was Vigeland park. Click on the link here to see another blog exclusively focused on this park. One of Norway's most famous artists was Gustav Vigeland, and the park which is named after him is filled with his life's work. My guidebook indicates the park has more than 200 sculpture, done in bronze, granite and cast iron. They each depict a different aspect of the life of humans, their birth, death, relationships, loves, struggles. I took only a few pictures and include them here. The link has more sculptures. It was a somewhat cold early spring day. We were introduced that first evening to one of the peculiar realities of this far Northern country. In the spring and summer, it doesn't get dark until well after 11 pm, and the sun rises early, like 4 am. It was a long day! Spring was just arriving . . . the tulips were blooming. It was also in this park that I saw some of the first European birds that I did not recognize. Later I would acquire a Norwegian bird book and ID some of them. More on that later. I like the sculpture below. Many of them are very touching, some disturbing. All are very skillfully crafted. I like these two sisters . . . or maybe they are best friends. I also like the touching tenderness of this couple. In the center of the park is this tower. All around it are 8 gates made of cast iron, depicting different groups of people . . . warriors, and maidens, mothers and sages. I did not take pictures of them all . . . this was on a hill and quite chilly. Proof Rich and I was there! Proof his dad was there too. This also gives you a sense of the size of the tower. We returned to our hotel, after finding some sandwiches for our dinner . . . to catch up on our sleep, and recover after our journey. The next day was a Norwegian holiday. Norway is very serious about their holidays! Everything is closed, except thank goodness . . . not the museums. Even the stores are closed! Here is a classic example of the stark difference when compared to America. We greedy capitalists look for every opportunity to encourage people to engage in commerce, especially on holidays. In Norway, it is the law that all businesses are closed for recognized holidays, with only the exception of places that serve food . . . and museums. So, on our first full day in Norway we went to the major museums. Oh . . . the statue below . . . no idea who made it or why. But when you see a statue to chickens, you just gotta take notice! Norway has always been closely associated with the ocean. They proudly claim their descendance from the Vikings. Along with their sister Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, they conquered and colonized Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe islands, and the Aland islands. Many debate and speculate just how far their reach extended. They are more often thought of as bloodthirsty warriors . . . . but in reality they were more traders and farmers, fishermen and colonists. They made their living on the ocean and got very good at travel over it. There is a grouping of museums in the district of Bygdoy focused on this marine history. The Viking Ship Museum has three authentic, restored ships. The most complete and beautiful of them all is the one above. All three of these examples were burial ships for royalty, and perhaps were retired ships. There are many more restored wooden objects in the museum, but I didn't include pictures. Rich posing with the Oseberg Ship. Below is either the Gokstad or the Tune ship, I'm not sure which. We also visited the Norsk Folkemuseum . . . the Norwegian Folk Museum. Among the many beautiful items of clothing and furniture inside the building, there were also preserved whole buildings. Norway is well known for their Stave Churches . . . built entirely out of wood. There are many across the country and they are lovingly preserved. I include this one at the Folk Museum. I also included one that is located on a hill in Oslo. We saw several others as we traveled through the country. In fact, there is even a very fine example of a Stave Church here in Little Norway near Mount Horeb. Rich and I by the fountain in the courtyard at the Folk Museum. We also visited the Maritime Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Fram Museum. I was all "shipped" out by the end of the day. If you really want to know more, look them up! Rich at the helm! It seemed fitting to include this shoreline, mixed with both old and new. We returned to our hotel, only to then take a walk over to the new Opera House, and up and over the Opera House. It's a modern glass and marble construction that slopes steadily right down into the water. You can walk up the side of the slope onto the ceiling. On our walk back we enjoyed a rather expensive waffle from a street vendor (about $4 when you figure the exchange rate). Did I mention that everything here is expensive?? Either way, it was tasty! That evening, after a bit of a rest from walking around and viewing all the boats and walking over the Opera House, we met up with Grethe and her boyfriend, Johnny, for a very lovely meal. Here I had one of the first of several fish chowder soups I would enjoy as I visited this country which features fish in much of its cuisine. I also had a lovely fish salad. I very much enjoy fish! I knew I was going to enjoy eating on this vacation. After dinner Grethe and Johnny took us for a drive around Oslo. We went to see the skyline, and one of those Stave Churches. We also saw the recently constructed ski jump. Because snow blankets this country for far more months that not, many Norwegians ski. It is one of their passions, and they are very proud of their accomplishments when competing internationally. We also drove by the residence of the King and Queen, where they actually live, and also visited the palace, which is their ceremonial home, but where they don't actually live. It now houses many governmental offices. Norway is a constitutional parliamentary democracy with a hereditary monarchy. The King of Norway is Harald V. His wife is Queen Sonja. The palace is patrolled by smartly dressed soldiers, members of what is called 'His Majesty the King's Guard'. In Norway, all citizens are expected to give military service after high school, or after college if they go on to University. With a population of about 4.8 million, it is a requirement. This young man below gave me a sharp parade rest of his weapon, and I'm certain posed for my camera. The evening was late, and Grethe and Johnny had to get to work the next day, so we headed back to our hotel. Rich and I then strolled around a little more just enjoying the long, light evening. The next morning we were up and packed to get going on the rest of our journey, to Lillehammer. At this time I'll also mention our experience with breakfast in Norway. Of course, the hotels will lay out the full spread, and the Rica was probably the best example. There is an offering of fruit and thick crusty and grainy breads (yummy), and flat breads. There is almost always some pickled herring. The Rica had 5 varieties. Rich was in heaven . . . he loves pickled herring. There are cheeses, to include their famous brown cheese Brunost and Gjetost, and sausages, and smoked meats, and smoked fish. There are hard-boiled eggs, and eggs with bacon. Sometimes there is caviar, and I tried some. Too salty! There is yogurt and granola. This is all washed down with a variety of fruit juices, milk, tea, or very strong Norwegian coffee. I could get to enjoy these breakfasts! I've had the Gjetost before, when Rich was courting me. Tastes kinda like caramel cheese, which is exactly what it is! After breakfast, but before departing, we made the trip across the street to purchase an authentic Norwegian sweater from the Oslo Sweater Shop. I also purchased a few gifts for my sisters. I currently own a sweater from Iceland. Now, thanks to Rich, I also have a Norwegian sweater. It is thick and warm, woven in wool, and kept me warm throughout the next two weeks. It too is expensive . . . probably about $180 . . . but worth it. Our time in Oslo done, Grethe walked us over to the train station, and saw us off on our journey North, to Lillehammer. Thanks for your hospitality Grethe!! The train followed along Lake Mjøsa, which is actually a very wide river. When we arrived it was cold and drizzling, but the Lillehammer family greeted us with a waving US flag. Our luggage and ourselves were transported to where we would be staying, and we were greeting with a lovely lunch. The afternoon was spent getting acquainted. Rich and I were given a nice private room, in the top floor of an old building previously owned by Asbjorn, and his father before him, but now owned by Lars, his son. It is in various stages of being re-modeled. Lars and his family live in one portion. They rent out another portion. There is a transition zone between the two which is unfinished, and being worked on by Polish carpenters. Our room had a private water closet (it's what they call em) and a pig's leg in the wardrobe. Really! Above was the view of the river from our clam-shell window on the day we arrived. Below was the view on the day we left. It really is a pretty valley! The river was low when we arrived, having been intentionally allowed to flow low, as they anticipated the spring melt. It was at about full capacity when we left. At this point, I should give a little info about the village of Lillehammer, which is exactly what it is . . . a village. You can walk to much of it on foot, and the central road is lined with shops, which sometimes are open, but for us were often closed due to holidays! Their history is complex, and I'm not going to relate all of it . . . though the Norwegians are happy to talk at length about it. During some portion of the civil war history of this region (1130 to 1240), an infant king was being challenged by a lesser political party and their leader. The child was Haakon Haakonsson, and he was protected by the Birkebeiners, which are essentially soldiers on skis. There is a romantic tale of two of these Birkebeiners transporting the child king across the mountain and out of harms way. The region has adopted this symbol as their own, with the below crest representing Lillehammer. If you want to read more about this tale, you can look here! The valley if filled with historic buildings, and beautiful forest areas, with many rivers draining away the winter snow. Of course, it is well known for being the location of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Here is a view from the ski jump above the Olympic Park. The rest of our day was spent relaxing, and preparing for the wedding the next day, which is covered in a separate post below. Here is the church we were married in, as viewed from their central park. After our wedding day, Saturday May 15, and after National Day on Monday, May 17, it was Tuesday, May 18 . . . my birthday! I turned 45. Woot! Our exciting plans for the day were to take a river ride on an authentic Viking ship. Below is the Mjosen Lange, and she is 'captained' by Kai, who is about as authentic a Viking as you will find in these modern days. She is constructed by the same level of craft as the ships of old, but on a much smaller scale. Many ships of this fashion still ply the waters of Norway by many fishermen. Kai has made it his life's work to study and to live the life of his ancestors. She has a Facebook page, but I can't attach the link here. If interested, look it up yourself. Asbjorn, his son Lars, and his grandson Henrik each own a share of this vessel. We were told that the dragon head was only placed on the front of a ship if the Vikings were intent on invading and conquering the shore and the people that they were invading. If they came in peace, which often they did for trade, the dragon head would not be displayed. We were out for a pleasant sail down the river . . . but we still displayed the dragon's head. Rich took his turn at the tiller. Here is Kai. Asbjorn joked that we would meet no more authentic Viking . . . nor smell one either . . . so stay upwind if we could. Here is Rich giving me his best Viking grin . . . which somehow looses its effect with that Betty Boop shirt! I too took my turn at the tiller. The craft was really quite responsive to the tiller. At this point we did have the square sail up, but were mostly pulled down the river by the current. After awhile the sail was brought down and we were shown, and pulled out the rows, and we used human power to return upstream . . . unsuccessfully. We then utilized a little hidden modern technology . . . a small on-board motor to make our way back to the port. We then made our way to Lene and Tore's home, where the flag was being flown on my behalf. After all . . . when a family celebrates a special occasion, the flag may be flown. This was my birthday! We had a lovely meal, followed by an equally spectacular dessert of recently hand picked currents and sweet cream. The Norwegian relatives sang to me the Norwegian Birthday Song . . . and I just had to have them do it again so I could record it. It's a lot more active than our own, with all those bows and bends and twists.
It was a GREAT BIRTHDAY!! Thank you All!! Oh . . . and during some of those days, I took out the kids and some of the adults and showed them Geocaching. It was neat to add a foreign country to my finds, and I also dropped off a Travel Bug that has been with me for too long. It wanted to go to Australia, and originally came from Denmark. Well, I did move it from Ft. Worth, so it did travel. After the wedding, National Day, and my birthday, we had the great fortune to be taken on a three-day road trip across Norway by Lars and his family. I will try to relate some of the journey, though I'm pretty sure I won't get the names correct on some of these locations. My keyboard also does not have their additional 3 vowels handy. I have no familiarity with the Norwegian language, and at best learned only how to say 'Thank You'. Lars and Marie are quite multi-lingual. Norwegians begin learning their own language, of course from birth, and study it in school. Somewhere around 4th grade or so they begin to learn English. Later in their education they can elect for a third language . . . often German. The multi-lingual aspect makes travel in this country easy . . . as you are able to communicate. Above was one of the first locations we stopped at, Lom, at the gateway to the Jotunheimen Mountains, which was our next destination. In Lom we stopped at a famous bakery that came highly recommended by Lars. It met expectations! We had lunch there, and looked out the window of the bakery over the River Bovra, which was greatly swelled with spring melt. Lars encouraged us to look and see if we could spot a Fossekall (Cinclus cinclus) which is a Norwegian bird we know as a Dipper. It is the national bird of Norway. We did not spot this little river dweller on this occasion, but were fortunate to see him in a different river before we left Norway. Lom also has one of those famous Stave Churches, this one still being situated where it was originally built. Sorry . . . I didn't take a picture of it! We continued on our drive up into the Sognefjellet Mountains, which despite all the snow around us, was quite comfortable. Our goal was Turtagro Hotel, where we spent our first evening. I've included a link to the hotel website. If you go to the link, make sure you are on the English page! There are some videos there that are also worth looking at. They seem to have been filmed at about the same time of the year we were at the hotel. They give you the feel for the location, and you can also hear the sound of Norway we heard . . . Norwegians speaking English. Above is a picture of one of the first birds I spotted in Norway that I did not recognize, though this spotting was not the first time. It is called Linerle (Motacilla alba) by the Norwegians. We know it as a Wagtail. Thank goodness to that nice little bird ID book I bought. It's all in Norwegian, but it has the Latin names which are universal. These little birds are found all over Norway . . . they move their tails rhythmically up and down, appearing to tap the ground. We spent a lovely evening at the Turtagro Hotel, enjoying a delicious three-course meal first, then sleeping in bunk-house accommodations. It is a hiker's lodge with a long history. It has been recently re-constructed due to a fire that destroyed it a few years ago. It had a famous hiking library, which now is being re-created through donations from around the world. Rich and I walked around for awhile, down the road to look at one of the many flowing streams, before settling into our respective bunk-beds for the night. The sun set late, and arrived early. Upon our arrival I spotted a hawk flying overhead . . . which I'm pretty certain I identified as one of our own Rough-Legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus). The Norwegians call him Fjellvak. On the day of our arrival the swallows also returned, so the staff of the hotel told us. They very busily started working on making their mud nests inside the small holes in the woodwork above the windows of the lodge. I'm not absolutely certain of the ID of the swallow, but I believe it to be what the Norwegians call Taksvale (Delichon urbica). There are only two choices in my bird book, and it clearly did not look like the other choice! We slept well, enjoyed a hot shower in the morning, and broke our fast on another of those wonderful Norwegian breakfast buffets. Rested and fed, we headed down the road and onto the other side of the mountain, after driving around the valley just a little. We did see and flush a couple times some species of ptarmigan ~ but never got a really good look to know which kind. The side we had ascended was North facing, so much more in the shadow, which left much of the snow still in place waiting for the air to warm enough to melt it. However, on the decent, we were on the South facing, sunward side . . . where much of the snow had already melted away, and the green grass was advanced in growth. We began to see many pastured flocks of sheep. Having never seen sheep up close, and those little lambs so very appealing in their cuteness . . . we stopped and took pictures of them. The sheep were curious and came right up to the fence, perhaps wondering if we had any special food or treats for them. Cute . . . Eh! As we descended, I took a pic of this very picturesque valley. Click it to see an image closer up. Norway has many of these small villages along its many rivers, and fjords, which was the region we were driving into. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. We stopped in Sogndal and had a little lunch before continuing on our journey. Along the way we stopped at the Norwegian Glacier Museum at Fjaerland. The museum was closed, which was just as well, as it was pricey to go inside. The link above has pictures of the building. We walked up on top of the modern building overlooking the mountains that have been carved out by the Jostedalsbreen glacier, which is one of the largest in Europe. The glacier has been retreating over the last few years, which Lars also confirms as he has hiked this glacier before. In years past it flowed further down and into this valley. My picture does not show very clearly, but at the top of the glacier the ice shows through deep blue . . . due to its thick clear compacted nature which only reflects a certain spectrum of light. Our journey took us through many tunnels . . . some very long . . . and several ferry rides. We stopped for awhile in Ulsteinvik, which is known as a ship-building town, where we visited for awhile with a relative of Asbjorn. We enjoyed coffee and snacks inside his yurt-style "man-cave" built in his back yard. The seating was covered in reindeer pelts. In the center was a covered fire pit which surely keeps the yurt toasty and warm in the winter. It was a nice rest break before we continued on our journey. Our final goal for the day was Alesund, which is on the Western coast of Norway. We spent the evening in a hostel. The accommodations were not as fancy as our previous night, but still comfortable. The next day we walked to the top of their central hill (a journey which took a lot longer than the man at the hostel indicated) and took pictures of the view. Very nice! We traveled beyond the mountain in the picture above to visit the Alesund Aquarium, called Atlanterhavsparken. The link I've provided here brings you to the Norwegian page. You can click for the English . . . it just doesn't have the sky view of the place. While at the museum and around the park that surrounds it, I heard the most melodious song yet while in Norway. I suspected I knew who the songster was . . . but wanted to make absolutely sure with a visual. After some sneaking about I did spot the bird as it sang. As suspected, it was a Black Bird (Turdus merula). The Norwegians call it Svarttrost. I've linked to a ~long~ clip of its song. Yes . . . it's the bird referred to in the famous Beatles song! What is this?? Penguins in the Northern Hemisphere?? They are not native here . . . but the Alesund Aquarium has a large exhibit for them where these threatened birds have been successfully breeding. This species is the Humboldt Penquin. We were at the aquarium during feeding time . . . and we got to see a couple of the babies. We spent the rest of the afternoon locating a very posh restaurant where we had another spectacular dinner . . . fortunately finishing and leaving before the evening crowd began to arrive . . . as based upon their wardrobe, we were very under-dressed. We walked along the pier watching some of the large ships and ferries come and go. Lars then navigated us through the night through the northern slopes of the central mountains. I'm sad to report that I snoozed through some of the journey. The views were spectacular! There are waterfalls everywhere . . . but we got to a point that we just didn't stop, or couldn't stop, to see and photograph them. We drove through muskox territory, but did not see any. We also were driving through moose territory . . . we did see a couple, but they were very far off in the distant fields. It was a fantastic journey through very beautiful countryside! The remainder of our days in Norway were spent relaxing and enjoying the company of our hosts. The day before we left we visited the family cabin in the hills of Lillehammer. It is called Bergbua, but I don't remember what that means. I think pretty much "mountain cabin" or "home in the mountain". We walked up, with the youngest in our party getting a lift from his dad. At the cabin we relaxed, had coffee and tea and cookies, looked over the valley, watched a few ducks on the pond, and here spotted in the river the Fossekall. Remember him? That's the official bird of Norway. They nest and forage among the rushing rivers, which Norway has in abundance. There is fishing in the pond or on the river, if you are so inclined to that activity. We just enjoyed our final hours with these wonderful people before we had to begin the return journey home the next day. It was a fabulous vacation to this beautiful country. I think it highly likely Rich and I will visit again. Lars and his family would like to come visit us here in Minnesota, and plan to try and do that in 2011. Lene and her family would also like to visit some day. The Welcome Mat will be out for them! I'll include here some of the other birds spotted and clearly identified while in Norway: Blue Tit - Called Blameis by the Norwegians (Parus caeruleus) Fieldfare - Called Gratrost by the Norwegians (Turdus pilaris) ~ this bird resembles in movement and sound our North American Robin! Common Wood Pigeon - Called Ringdue by the Norwegians (Columba palumbus) ~ this is a particularly LARGE bird when compared to other pigeons . . . distinct by its size. European Magpie - called Skjaere by the Norwegians (Pica pica). I got to see one of their nests up close, as I found one built pretty close to the ground. It looks like a rather loose assemblage of sticks, but also has a canopy over the top, with an entrance that only the parent birds can easily find. There was one magpie that perched outside our window most every morning and cawed his morning song. Our "Morning Magpie" was not reliable as an alarm clock, as he came at different times of the morning, but was there most days. Carrion Crow - called Krake by the Norwegians (Corvus corone). There was one particular bird who flew a circuit around Asbjorn's yard, frequently sitting on his storage shed overlooking the valley. There was an over abundance of seagulls, and I didn't bother to try and know which kind they were. Also spotted were Starlings and European House Sparrows. Species that were looked for, and hopefully seen, but were not were as follows: European Goldfinch - called Stillits by the Norwegians (Carduelis carduelis) ~ this is a cage bird kept in America, and found in Norway, but not seen . . . . SIGH! Bullfinch - called Dompap by the Norwegians (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) Western Capercaillie - called Storfugl by the Norwegians (Tetrao urogallus) and Black Grouse, called Orrfugl by the Norwegians (Tetrao tetrix). Both of these species are well known to live in the Lillehammer area, but are notorious for being quite shy. Atlantic Puffin - called Lunde by the Norwegians (Fratercula arctica). A boat tour out of Alesund would have allowed these birds to be seen. Eurasian Jay - called Notteskrike by the Norwegians (Garrulus glandarius). This is supposedly a very common, and pretty jay, but it was not seen while I was visiting. I think I saw a single accipiter flying by, quickly, but it was a short sighting so I'm unsure of ID. Norway is very commonly inhabited by both Eurasian Sparrowhawk, called Spurvehauk by the Norwegians, (Accipiter nisus) and Northern Goshawk, called Honsehauk by the Norwegians (Accipiter gentilis). The former is somewhat equivalent in size between our Sharp-Shinned and Coopers Hawk, with the later being the exact same bird found in our Northern forests. Either way, I didn't see clearly any of these birds. Norway also has a healthy population of the local falcon, called Jaktfalk (Falco rusticolus) which is the same species of Gyrfalcon we know in North America. Also looked for, but not seen were Golden Eagles, called Kongeorn by the Norwegians (Aquila chrysaetos) or White Tailed Eagles, called Havorn by the Norwegians (Haliaeetus albicilla). The former is the same species found in Western North America, with the later being a species I've never seen but found common along the Western Coast of Norway, where we were, but of course not seen! I was looking! Either way, Faconry is not allowed in Norway . . . so you can be sure I'd never move there permanently. Maybe on the next visit I can see some of these other species.