Monday, September 6, 2010

Ha det bra, Norge

The title "ha det bra, Norge" means "goodbye, Norge" because this is my last blog post! My separation from Norway was certainly said and I still am missing it! But before we get all sappy I'll tell you about the wonderful trip I took with my parents.

After dropping my stuff at the hotel we headed to Vigeland park (where I had already been three times) for a rainy visit and lots of acrobatic pictures. Although slightly awkward, it is also great fun to climb on the sculptures of naked people all around the park.

Next we met up with some Norwegian friends who had bought my dad's book and used his website--I had eaten lunch with them the week before, all in Norwegian! Anyway, we took a walk around Sognsvann (lake) with them, then visited Holmenkollen again (the ski jump), and had a wonderful meal of elk, potatoes, and berries--very scandinavian!

The next day we were off for a beautiful flight to Bergen. I took plenty of pictures from the plane--the fjords are so beautiful, of course. We had lunch at the Bergen fish market, which was great to see, and then wandered around. Bryggen, the old, wooden dock-front area of Bergen (UNESCO heritage site) is amazing! There are lots of twisty wooden alleys and old stone halls... my type of place. Lots of tourists, too. We visited the Hanseatic Museum, which was in an old bryggen house, with wonderful historic rooms. My favorite part was the beds--they were in boxed-off parts of the wall. Cozy!

We also saw Rozencrantz Tower and Håkon's Hall--more beautiful stone medieval buildings. We heard an organ concert in an old church, and had two wonderful dinners during our two days there (one included reindeer and whale meat!).

The next day we took a train, a car, and a few ferries to get to Lofthus, the town where we believe my great-great-grandfather was born. The town was cute and tiny--right on the edge of the steep sides of the fjord. We visited the little church and church-yard, and though we didn't find any graves of relatives, it was wonderful. We stayed in Kinsarvik, another tiny town right down the fjord from Lofthus that used to be a port for viking ships. Cool!

After some more beautiful ferry rides on the fjords we arrived in Aurland, where we stayed in a tiny cabin on the fjord (literally--if you fell out the window you would land in the water). We enjoyed exploring the little town and admiring the fjord out the window. We even got to see a rainstorm pass through and obscure the fjord wall opposite us! It was beautiful.

Our next stop was the Flåm railway, said to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world (or something like that). It was raining in Flåm, but then it cleared up for the ride, which was certainly camera-worthy--lots of beautiful mountains, streams, waterfalls, lakes, houses, and even glaciers! We all got out of the train at one point to admire a huge waterfall, and were treated to a cheesy yet fun show by a "huldra"--a Norwegian version of a siren--dancing in the waterfall, complete with sound effects.

We arrived after an hour in Myrdal, where we waited for another train to take us back to Oslo. That ride was just as beautiful as the Flåm ride, and it was fun to get back to Oslo (though sad to leave the west coast!). While back in Oslo for a few days, my mom and I took a trip to Kongsberg, where my great-great-grandmother was born. We did some research at the archives, trying to decipher unreadable church books (did they really think people could read that handwriting?), then took a bus to Hedenstad Kirke (church), where my great-great-grandmother Helvina was baptized. The church was in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by hills and pastures--a beautiful view. The inside was simple, but there was a beautiful design painted on the ceiling, and it was just wonderful to be there. We tried to search for my great-great-great-grandfather's grave, but had trouble finding anything older than the 1900s. I ended up using my sparse norwegian to speak with the church's groundkeeper (who didn't speak english--a rarity in Norway), who explained that they had taken out the old gravestones to make room for the new ones. Very unfortunate for those of us looking to trace our roots, but that's ok. We know he was buried somewhere there, along with my great-great-great uncle, who had worked in the Kongsberg silver mines--our next stop--for 50 years.

At the silver mines we were given earplugs and led to a tiny car on a tiny train. We sat cramped in the car and traveled more than 2 kilometers into the mine, our earplugs blocking out the noise of the metal car jarring across the tracks. As we traveled down it got colder and colder, and I began to feel sorry for the miners who had to put up with the mines in the winter (there were many other reasons to feel sorry for them, I discovered). We took a tour of the mines, up and down and through just a tiny section of the whole mine--the largest in Norway. It was amazing to imagine the miners working there for hours at a time, in almost complete darkness, squeezing through tiny holes and climbing up and down rickety wooden ladders. Thousands of men worked there, and it must have been miserable--in winter they wouldn't have seen sunlight at all. So although it was very interesting, I was happy to get out of the mines and into the sun and warmth.

We took a train back to Oslo, and had a wonderful final dinner at Aker Brygge, and "hip and trendy" dockside area. We had a view of beautiful evening light on Akershus fortress--a wonderful way to end our trip. My parents left in the morning and I hung around the hotel room for a while, watching the rain and starting to miss Norway already. My flight was in the afternoon, so I took the train to the airport, flew to Reykjavik and then Boston. It was bittersweet being home. Jeg savner Norge! (I miss Norway).

So, thus concludes another one of Lydia's adventures. Many more to come, I hope! Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thunderstorm + Ruined Monastery (and some other happenings)

Hi again! Shall we hop on a train to Brumunddal, Norway? Brumunddal is a small town near Lillehammer, which is famous for hosting the winter olympics in 1994. While visiting my friend there we took a stroll through Hamar, the biggest town in the area. It was fun and much nicer weather than when I was there the last time, in November! We spent the rest of the weekend hanging at my friend's house, taking walks, and catching up (I hadn't seen her in a year and a half). I also got to practice my norwegian with her parents, who were not as comfortable with english. It was a lovely weekend, and of course too short.

The next week I had fun going out for sushi and a movie with my summer school friends, and on Friday enjoyed a wonderful "International Cultural Evening." Every summer the summer school organizes an evening where students put on performances, make food, and run stands about their countries. I made chocolate chip cookie bars (I couldn't find any chocolate chips in the stores, though, so I used M&M-type-candies) and enjoyed trying food from all over the world. During the show I performed the "thriller dance" with a group of Americans, then had fun watching the other acts--there were a lot of dances, some in beautiful traditional costumes, and some singing.

That weekend my friends and I headed up to Holmenkollen, a huge ski jump on a hill in Oslo. It's Norway's top tourist destination and impressed me much more than I was expecting! We got to take an elevator to the top of the jump,a dn rode a "ski simulator" which I'm sure felt much different than the real thing, but was still entertaining. Afterwards we hiked all the way down from Holmenkollen to Sognsvann, a lake near campus. Despite the rain, it was a beautiful hike and I filled up on berries! Sweet, juicy, tiny wild strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries (the strawberries were smaller than the raspberries!)

Later that weekend I took a trip by myself to the Oslo folk museum, which was similar to Skansen in Stockholm--lots of historic buildings had been moved there, including a magnificent wooden stave church. I also got to see some great folk dancing, to the tune of a nickelharpa (awesome instrument) this time. I took a nice stroll through Oslo afterwards, and realized that despite its small population, there is a lot of wonderful Oslo to see.

Then came my last week of classes! It was quite sad, because I had made many good friends, and I really enjoyed going to class every day. I think I learned a bit too! I took my exam at the end of the week (quite easy) and celebrated the end of school with the arrival of my parents and a trip with my friends to an island in Oslo harbor. That was a magical experience, because we ended up taking cover in a ruined monastery during a wonderfully dramatic thunderstorm. Ruins and thunderstorms may be two of my favorite things. Hot chocolate afterwards complemented the afternoon perfectly.

That night we had the summer school going away party, with speeches, photos, cake, and dancing. It was lots of fun, but so sad to say goodbye to my friends and the University of Oslo. After a little bit of sleep, I packed up my things, said my goodbyes, and took the metro with my parents to their hotel. There began another adventure.....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Classy clubs, rafting, and Sweden


Because I spent so long in Oslo (and didn't keep a journal while I was there), I will skip around a bit as I am writing this. I may also forget some things, make some things up, and generally just go out of order. I'll try to keep somewhat chronological by looking at the photos I took during my stay. Enjoy!

During the beginning of my stay in Oslo I had two other experiences worth noting. The first was a visit to Oslo's royal palace, which is humble, but beautiful. Norway never had a tradition of building castles and palaces, so Oslo's is relatively small and new (meaning from the 1800s). Still, there were some very beautiful rooms, and it was cooler than some other palaces I've seen because it is still used! The Norwegian king has a bigger role than expected; he meets in a certain room with his ministers every friday; the prince steps in if the king is not there. We also saw beautiful guest rooms that are given to foreign dignitaries--all except one American, who we were told refused to stay there because there was no air conditioning. Silly.

My other experience was a taste of Oslo night life... during my stay there I went to a few clubs and discos, including a very entertaining karaoke club. One night I went with a few other ISS students to a club on the top floor of a building in central Oslo, and my goodness was it exclusive! I was wearing jeans and a tank top because I hadn't been planning to go out, but this place could certainly be called a "pretty people party." We were only allowed in because one of the ISS students knew a girl who was singing there that night. There were so many classy, fashionable norwegians there, and they were all drinking red bull mixed with wine. Classy? Who knows. But it was certainly an experience.

My third weekend in Oslo I got to go hiking and rafting! It was so much fun. We took a bus to Jotunheimen (a zone in Norway--"home of the giants") and hiked up Bitihorn, a pretty steep mountain with snowbanks and gorgeous views. There was even a fence on the mountain to keep out (or in) reindeer, though we didn't see any reindeer. After our hike we hopped back on the bus and drove to Sjoa, where we stayed at Sjoa rafting camp for the night. It was great--lots of wood cabins with grass growing on the roof and a wonderful meal cooked over a giant wood stove. The next day we went rafting, which was lots of fun. We all got wet suits and helmets and got in big yellow rafts with a guide who taught us how to paddle and what to do if we fell out. I did so once, during a particularly rough bit of rapids! It was lots of fun, and not too cold. We rafted again after lunch, then took a long bus ride back, arriving just in time to see the end of the world cup.

My next great adventure was the next weekend--we had a long weekend, so I went to Stockholm! I took a six-hour-long train ride and almost melted. It was super hot! I blamed it on the swedish trains. I arrived in Stockholm and went to my hostel with a tiny room with a tiny window that didn't open, no ventilation, and no air conditioning. That was more than uncomfortable.

Besides being hot, Stockholm was beautiful. I loved gamla stan--the old city--with lots of narrow, cobbled streets and cute buildings. I got a tour of the palace, which was much bigger than Oslo's palace and beautiful, and also saw the history museum and the middle ages museum. I did a lot of my normal wandering, and at one point ended up running into a royal military parade, with a live band. I followed the parade until they arrived at the palace, where they gave a free concert outside in the courtyard and did a lot of marching around. It was great. I also stumbled upon the "Stockholm Green Festival" and a salvation army meeting, did some shopping (it seemed cheap, compared to Oslo!), went to an Irish pub with bad (non-irish) music, and got hit on by some italians. On Saturday morning I headed to gamla stan again in the morning (around 9--after my iced coffee and cinnamon bun) and was surprised to find it empty! There were hardly any tourists, even. I took some handstand pictures in the streets, then trekked to Skansen, which is Stockholm's outdoor museum. There were some great historical buildings, animals from Sweden and the rest of the world, and the a fun folk dance performance in which I got to dance a bit. After along time wandering around Skansen, I decided I had had enough of historical buildings, and walked back to my hostel after a quick 7-11 dinner by the water, watching a storm come in. It was fun hearing and seeing Swedish--I could understand a little bit spoken, and read a little bit more.

The next day I jumped on another train to Oslo (luckily not too hot this time) and said farewell to Stockholm--it had been a great weekend. That week I continued with classes (already halfway through!) and with my exploration of Oslo--I saw a public library, which wasn't very interesting, but it was fun walking around downtown.

The next weekend I took another train--this time to Brumunddal (1.5 hours north of Oslo), to visit a good friend there. That's coming up in the next post. Thanks for reading!