22-27 September 2004
Wednesday-Thursday, September 22-23
Threats of no food or wine in business class proved untrue at the last minute, and we took off on time, floating over constant bumps for three of our nine hours in the air. Two more plane trips (from Stuttgart to Paris, then on to Stockholm by 3:15pm) and we were near the Uppsala home of our hostess, Inger Nilsson.
Friday, September 24
At the Radisson SAS Arlanda Hotel near the airport, we weathered our jetlag and awoke at 6:30am local time for a perfect breakfast of cold cuts, herring, salmon, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cheese. A forty-minute bus trip takes us to Sunnersta, the small suburban village outside of Uppsala where Inger lives. The bus driver asks a fifteen-year-old girl to translate our English for him, and she gladly and capably does so.
Inger's neighborhood is near several schools, the nearest one being an elementary school. Multiple wood-sided homes – predominantly yellow – sit strewn about on gently rolling hills, each with some size of yard and flower garden. (Inger explains that since her family's arrival in 1961, there have been multiple re-divisions of lots increasing the density of houses at least twofold.)
Inger serves us coffee and cinnamon cake and we're all off to Sigtuna, a town boasting an intact medieval street. We stroll among old buildings on tight streets in this primarily retirement community on a lake. Many small shops are here to interest the souvenir seeker. We stop for tea at Tant Brun's, a red, seventeenth-century house with wavy floors and ceilings that touch the head of a standing human.
Ancient churches sit just outside the perimeter of town with runic stones of unknown age (some thousands of years old) and inscriptions which have been partially translated.
After a return home for lunch of broccoli, sausage, meatballs, potatoes, gravy and bread, we are back out for a trek through the woods around Lake Mälaren. It has receded over the last 7000 to 8000 years allowing the surrounding land to see daylight. Inger points out edible and inedible mushrooms, picking up several to inspect for taking home as her father would have done.
She leads us to the top of a high flat rock outcropping, the site of a Bronze Age fort, overlooking the lake where we rest on a bench as the sun peeks through clouds and bounces off the water. Inger's musings about lost peoples and their languages accompany our trek back amid the wet, wooded silence.
Inger has made our day with her generosity, energy, and thoughtfulness. We had a quiet meal and went to bed.
Saturday, September 25
Sleep endures straight through to 8:00am for both of us. A party down the lane was audible, but at neighborly volume. Inger treats us to reindeer sausage, boiled egg in egg cup, coffee, toast and yogurt-like, flavored sour milk for breakfast – very good!
We walk up the hill with Inger to catch the bus to the campus of the at Uppsala, first to the library where Inger worked for many years. An exhibition is underway-- ancient written material from around the world, including the Silver Bible, maps, and clay tablets.
We walk to the Uppsala Cathedral under blue sky, white moving clouds, and fifty degrees. Begun in the twelfth century, the look of the building is jarringly new. With a red brick exterior completed over centuries and spires added, removed, added, redesigned, and renovated, the look is of a huge 1950s brick cathedral in a U.S. city.
The inside is clean and decorated with the usual paid-for placement of wealthy or powerful dead men and their wives. The size and feel are impressive. Wade notices a flier for a Rachmaninoff Vigil (Requiem) to be performed at 3:00pm and we plan to return. We walk through a seventeenth-century archway cut into a classroom building, across the old and new bridge.
We stop where Inger has made a lunch reservation for us: Hambergs Fisk!The smell when we enter combines the aromas of cooked food and fresh fish to go. As soon as our water, bread, and wine are delivered, we butter up and begin. Just then, into the narrow aisle behind Inger, enters an older woman in a motorized wheelchair. Marisa and Wade face Inger and see the driver's approach. Knowing this will be a tight squeeze, we pull the table toward us and Inger draws closer. We get bumped and Inger's chair shoves our table a bit.
The lady in the wheelchair backs up and selects (we believe) a faster speed. With a two-foot opening and a two-and-a-half-foot chair with a running start, she bangs us again, this time knocking over glasses, breaking Wade's wine glass, and drenching his lap in buttery chardonnay. All surrounding tables look on as we and the waitress carefully pick glass from napkins and clothing. The poor woman says something in Swedish unheard by any one, backs up, turns around, and is shown out the door by a nice gentleman who just walked in and is unaware of her wild ride into our trip diary. We share laughs with the staff, the customers, and each other, all in English, then linger over a fine seafood luncheon (with free wine for Wade).
We then walk to hear the choral requiem which is lovely in the beautiful setting and acoustics of the cathedral – a memorable event. The singers are among many groups of Swedes who love to sing and join groups like this forty-member chorus, explains Inger. Cathedrals echoes add mystery to any sound, and it is impossible to become inured to the depth of tone generated there.
We make our way back to our bus stop sated (though Wade's pants are still wet!) and back to the comfort of Inger's living room. Our shared conversation all day long weaves around local history, language, religious history, language, language, the EU, and a little bit about family.
Inger leaves the room long enough to check for ingredients, then heads to the Co-op grocery store with Marisa. "Crepes with shrimp!" she announces. With milk, butter, shrimp and crab sticks, the meal is deeply satisfying. More talk, then a birthday call from Marisa's mother, and we're off to bed. Uppsala was good to us today.
Sunday, September 26: Marisa's Birthday
Rising after sound sleep under the wonderful down comforters, we have our breakfast. A relaxing Sunday morning is flavored by the smell of something sweet being cooked by Inger. She presents Marisa with her first birthday surprise of the day: a cheese cutter with reindeer-horn handle.
Inger's eldest child Ann visits for a short while, which turns into an hour and a half of delightful conversation. She shows a manner and pleasure in meeting new people which mirrors that of her mother. After she leaves, we have a lunch that Inger purchased at the Hambergs Fisk counter the day before: a casserole of potatoes, cheese, salmon and dill. Marisa is again in heaven.
Then we are off to Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) and its burial mounds from the Viking age. We stroll around these mysterious hills under beautiful skies, then enter the old church there where Inger was married, her children baptized, and some of them also married. We travel to Ulva Kvarn, a seventeenth-century mill and the craftsmen shops and park around it. The shops are closed, but the grounds are lovely.
Burial Mounds Church Ulva Kvarn
As we return home, we pass foreign (Polish, Inger says) strawberry pickers lying prone in a moving harness/rack, so that they may more comfortably reach down to the ground. A stop at the grocery store yields familiar as well as new sights.
For supper, we are joined by Åsa, Inger's younger daughter, and her husband Per Arne, and daughters Anna and Emma. We share a delicious meal of homemade pickled herring; smoked Canadian goose (yes, Canadian goose shot here!); sautéed reindeer with mushrooms, cream and lingonberries; potatoes (of course); and a wine that we bought at the duty-free store in the Atlanta airport. It was a Kenwood Reserve dedicated to Jack London and so has a wolf picture on the label, a very evocative image for any Swede. There is a full moon for us outside the kitchen window and Inger howls for us all.
The party adjourns to the living room for coffee, then all of our hosts bring in a meringue torte of thin sugar crusts stacked upon each other with cream and berries (straw, lingon, and black) in between. They sing to Marisa a rousing version of the Swedish "happy birthday" to her great delight.
The Birthday Song
Yes, may she live
Yes, may she live
Yes, may she live in 100 years.
Oh, yes, may she live
Oh, yes, may she live
Oh, yes, may she live in 100 years.
And when she has lived
And when she has lived
And when she has lived for 100 years
Then she'll be pushed
Then she'll be pushed
Then she'll be pushed in a wheelbarrow.
(The "pushed" is really "shot", which can be taken in two ways! The whole song is then followed by four cheers: Hoo Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah)
The cake is marvelous and we talk for another hour.
After all company has departed, Marisa and Inger sit in the kitchen for two-way conversation. When Marisa goes to bed, Inger and Wade have a turn to talk for nearly an hour longer. A family-filled day has passed and made us welcome in unexpected ways.
Monday, September 27
What began as a grey, windswept, wet morning became Inger's sunny, crowning, warm surprise. The clouds could symbolize the secrecy of her plan to entertain us in the best "typically Swedish" way. We had tried to bribe Anna the night before with cash, but she laughed and said only that our surprise would be fun and that she wished she could do it herself again.
With that endorsement playing in our minds, Inger loads us and our picnic lunch into her car. Our first stop is Enköping and we look around at the apartment buildings wondering what this could portend. At last, Inger admits that her son Åke and his son Mats are meeting us and will accompany us. (Mats has taken off from school, much to his delight.) They all take us to a large rock carving (Hällristning) covered with widely scattered etchings of boats, animals, and people. Though the historical markers say that these carvings had religious meaning to the ancients, Åke says that they could just as easily have been dirty jokes – a refreshing perspective.
Then we figure out that our hosts are still stalling as we have a specific appointment for our surprise. We arrive at LidingbyGård (a rum och frukost or bed and breakfast farm). The proprietress leads us to a little red outbuilding with smoke coming from the chimney. Inger tells us the surprise as we walk into the building and past a waist-high, wood-burning oven. We will be baking bread today – flat Swedish bread (tunnbröd). The owner lifts a bucket of brown dough onto the work table and makes the first two pieces.
We are delighted and immediately divide up the tasks as Marisa rolls dough, Inger brushes and pricks, Åke places each round into the oven, and Mats tends the fire and brushes spots and flour off the completed product. Wade, Marisa, and Inger rotate at the work table as the other two men expertly keep the cooking moving.
Marisa Wade Wade and Åke Åke Mats Everyone at Lunch
Four delightful hours go by and four big bags of soft, thin bread are eventually produced. During a break in the day, we are served tea, coffee, messmör (a flavored, butter spread), cheese, and our bread. All delicious. The owner shows Wade how the old-style Swedish fence was recently constructed, then we pack up our bread and head back to Enköping in order to meet Marta, Mats mom and Åke's wife.
We stop off at the marina where Åke's family sailboat lives. (Such an exclusive marina and so close to a large city the size of Stockholm… phenomenal.) We then travel with Åke and Mats back to their home, once the flat of the mayor and then Bjorn Borg's coach. It is a mid-1940s apartment, combined from two, and is large, pleasant, and centrally located. We finish off Inger's picnic lunch by 5:00pm. Tired, but satisfied, we go back by the grocery store to get materials for our first leg through Norway.
A small supper meal over gifts from Atlanta to Inger turned into two hours of conversation in relaxed, reluctant exhaustion covering many topics.
28 September - 9 October 2004
Up at 5:00am, all three of us are sad to part. The guide and the guided have been stimulated and moved by the intense survey of this part of Sweden. We hug Inger and are off to Norway! Not so fast… The air traffic controllers in Oslo went on strike on Monday, even though there was no notice posted on the airline website this morning before we made the hour-long trip to the airport, checked bags, cleared security, and sat like dopes by the gate. We bought goodies for our car trip which was to have begun at 11:00am in Norway.
After many phone calls, bag retrieval, careful re-writing of plans, and cancellation calls to our first stop in Norway to visit distant relations, we take a forty-five minute bus ride to the Stockholm train station to wait for the next train to Oslo at 5:00pm. One whole day chewed out of our itinerary.
The station is, of course, a place for watching people. But the atmosphere is typically "terminal," not typically Swedish. There are two Burger Kings and a McDonald's, a Pizza Hut, and the ubiquitous Irish pub. The Linx train arrives on time for a high-speed trip at sunset. We snooze and renew ourselves on our way to the Radisson SAS Plaza (highest building in Oslo at thirty-four floors!).
We talked more about Inger and her family. Her command of English is almost as broad and deep as her knowledge of Scandinavian, European, and local history. Her seminar-on-the-go was exquisite.Monday evening Wade had taken the opportunity to tell her of our appreciation for her family. We met three of her four children and three of six grandchildren. The interest and kindness demonstrated by each that we met, was of quality usually reserved for beloved family and dear friends. We left Sweden feeling like both, thanks to our hostess and her loved ones.
Wednesday, September 29
After snapping a couple of photos outside the window of our 31st floor room, we each purchase $25 tickets (!!!) to the airport. Within an hour, we are in our rented Peugeot and on the E6 north to Oppland, then to highway 70 west to Sunndalsøra.
At first, the highway winds through hills and small mountains looking very much like Vermont and New Hampshire in the early fall (though yellow is the only color on the foliage here). The air is crisp at 55 degrees; blue sky holds blowing white clouds, occasionally lined with grey. When trees thin out below the Dovrefjell National Park, a mossy ground cover on both sides of the river and our road took over. Houses with grass roofs appear on farms and small communities alike; they still work.
The white top of mountains appears in the distance to the west. Snøhetta is the fourth tallest in Norway at 7500 feet and takes center stage on our left. We stop to take photos. The views get even more dramatic as we turn west around the mountain and enter the Sunndal valley.
Dovrefjell Sunndal Valley
Sunndalsøra appears suddenly on both sides of the road and our hotel just as quickly on the right. (This is the hotel where Marisa's mother, aunts, and uncle stayed on their pilgrimage last year.) Our room is big (an upgrade to a suite for some reason), plain, and nice. We look out on a giant, snow-covered mountains. The little town sports three little indoor malls across the street from us.
Thursday, September 30
Sumptuous breakfast with all that great Norge cheese and herring.
We begin the day trying to find Kjell Ove Holsbøvåg, the journalist who has corresponded with Marisa's mother and wrote an article about her family's visit in 2003. We are directed to the office of his paper, the Aura Avis and make a call to him. He had already started to make the plans for our visit and we would meet him this evening to finalize.
The weather is breathtakingly clear, blue, and crisp at only about 50 degrees. Starting with Kjell Ove, everyone who spoke English told us we must have brought the weather with us because September had been horrible, wet, cloudy, and muddy.
Crossing the town bridge, we join Highway 62, then 666 heading along the Sunndalsfjord hoping to catch a glimpse, on our way to Molde, of the Ormset farm, one of Marisa's family places. The combination of thin ribbons of asphalt with no center line, wide two-lanes with room to pass, and tunnels as long as four miles, tells just how difficult it has been to tame this beautiful landscape.
At times, it seems we could dip a finger in the salmon-infested water as we pass (there were, indeed, men in waders standing on gravel islands casting their lines). At other times, the precipice is five feet away with its bottomless drop. Then another snow-capped peak appears, reflected with his many relatives in full glory in water painted blue by our beautiful day. These roads are also used by full-size tractor trailers, so it pays to look ahead as much as right and left!
We stop to fill the gas tank which read about a third of a tank. We had gone about 350 miles on this tank; the fill-up was NOK330 or about $50. We arrive in Molde where the highway we were on has signs directing all cars to turn left into what looks like a parking lot. It turns out that this lot is for the car ferry across the fjord, because that is now the continuation of E6.
We look for a place to park and turn into a tunnel to a parking garage in the side of the mountain. We drive down this opening about 100 yards into an amazing network of man-made caves dynamited and excavated simply to make a parking lot in this town of 25,000. Apparently they are expecting company (they have a large jazz festival each year).
We stroll through town, have a $10 sandwich each, then walked through nice shops inside a block made into a mall. There are shops lining the street. There is always a glimpse of the water around the next corner. This round trip makes us fearful that we would break the camera from overuse.
When we arrive back at the hotel, we are flagged down with a message that Brit (Nerdal) Singsdal, a seventy-year-old distant cousin of Marisa's and a recent visitor to Thief River Falls, Marisa's Minnesota hometown. She had called and wanted an urgent call back. She is desperate to see us now! (The clerk said she was "very insistent.") When we get her on the phone (little or no English for her, zero Norwegian from us), the clerk translates that it is now or never to see her and her husband. Because of a death in the family, she and Harald would be gone the next day.
They come to the hotel in their 1989 Subaru and drive us out into the country, sun going down and moon coming up, between snow-capped mountains in a valley lined with pastures and several farms close to the road.
When we step out of the car, the unmistakable smell of domestic animal manure made Marisa breathe in with the gusto of the Norwegian farmer's daughter that she is. She walks arm in arm with Brit – a person she had met just forty minutes before – down to the fence beside their modern log cabin. They look up at the mountain as Brit makes breathless exclamations that Marisa couldn't translate, but that she very well knew. Brit was proud of her one and only ancient home.
Their new cabin was built in 1983 (Wade wrote down what Harald seemed to be saying and guessed right that it was 1983). All wood and all varnish and lacquer, the inside is warm and cozy, though the place is probably 2000 square feet on one level. There is a trunk in the corner, decorated and dated 1891, the kind a bride would save and bring with her upon marriage.
Their 45-year-old son Jørgen joins us from his home next door. He looks like a publicist for a Scandinavian rock band, but is a farmer and a sort of payroll administrator in town. He translates rather well for us, and Marisa gains valuable new genealogy information in between his questions about the upcoming U.S. election. The table (3.5 meters long with one long bench on each side) is suddenly covered with a typical "small" meal for guests – one which would be very normal to anyone from Thief River Falls: bread, salmon, coffee, juice, plus sweets which include very thin waffles and Sunndalsgrøt ( a thick spread something like custard or sweet clotted cream).
Driving to Nerdal Late Supper
Brit is seventy years old, she says, and Harald is eighty. After Jørgen leaves to pick up his daughter from dance class, Brit and Marisa continue to attempt communication. They cover some ground slowly, but come away satisfied. Brit is keen to compare what she saw in America with Norway, and to praise Faye and Oliver (Marisa's mother and step-dad) and all the relatives often.
Under a seven-eighths moon with the Big Dipper visible low in the sky, Harald drives us over the long farm road, back to the newer highway 70, through the tunnels, and back to town.
When we return to the hotel, there was an envelope from Kjell containing copies of the newspaper from 2003 (detailing the visit of Faye and her siblings) and a note about Friday's plans.
Friday, October 1
We are met in the lobby by Kjell, Per Anders Furu, his wife Svanyaporn (who also goes by "Jam"), and their daughter. We would visit Storviken, the house of Marisa's great grandfather (Halvor Wiken), which looks out onto the Sunndalsfjord. Bright sun lights the way as we race in two cars over bridge and down to the old waters-edge road (the only road before the tunnels were completed four years earlier). The speed which the two male drivers employ assumes a certain amount of luck regarding oncoming traffic.
Kjell leaves to go back to work and Per Anders and family drive us up to the highest point of the road, allowing us to look down on and take a picture of the old place. It must have been about 55 degrees and clear.
Per Anders, Jam, and daughter then took us to their home in "suburban" Sunndalsøra. A housing development from the recent decades, there are curved roads and two-story homes with detached or attached garages – smaller lots, perhaps, than most such places at home – but familiar looking, nonetheless… except for those giant mountains on both sides!
Jam quickly puts baby down for a nap and brings out dessert and coffee. She then shows her art (very appealing in various media and styles) and proceeds to give us a piece of water color – lovely. Per Anders discusses his work as an inspector on North Sea oil platforms, but is most proud of his 1966 Corvette – for good reason… sweet.
After coffee and conversation on topics of daily life in Norway, they take us back to our hotel, offering to serve us a late dinner, if needed, after the rest of our day. We drive out to Brit and Harald's road in order to see Innerdalen again and take more photos. Returning to the hotel, we are met by Kjell who drives us 25 miles to the Ormsettroa farm where we meet Martha, the current owner. The farm house was built in 1904, long after Marisa's great, great grandfather, Ole Ormseth, left to marry and move to Storviken farm. The place is on the Tingvoll fjord and the sun is sinking behind the mountains across the water just a few minutes after we arrive – just in time for a good photo. Like Brit, Martha has an old decorated trunk, dated 1910, that came from her own grandmother Martha.
Ormsettroa Farm Tingvoll
Kjell is expansive, well-spoken and friendly. His reporter's curiosity and his affection for his home in these parts (not to mention his very good English) make him an excellent Over dinner at the hotel, we talk about local history, family history, politics, family, and country music. He tells us that if you pronounce the letters of the state-run TV (NRK) just right, it comes out "anarchy." His affection for country music comes from being hooked at an early age when his father played Buck Owens' "I Got a Tiger by the Tail" on a tape in the car.
We have a meal of cod (torsk), parsnips, carrots, and – you guessed it! – a big plate of potatoes. The meal is surprisingly good considering that the restaurant is empty. Kjell presents us with two copies of a photo book (one copy for Faye) which tells and shows the whole of this fylke: Møre og Romsdal.
We say goodnight to the last in a series of quick friends we would like to keep longer.
Saturday, October 2
We leave Sunndalsøra as we had found it – light and shadow on mountains, steep hillsides most often slanted severely toward water. The golden birch leaves are whipping about in the new wind just arrived; that wind followed us as we zigzagged our way to Bergen, the old capital and the center of trade for Norway for centuries.
Møre og Romsdal
Taking a longer route around multiple fjords and through the Romdal Alps and the Jotunheimen National Park, we see such inclines, cliffs, waterfalls, sky-blocking rock mountains, as can only be felt, not described. Photos can't tell the number, the smothering mass that they constitute. Clouds gather and leave rapidly the further into our day we drive. Across the moss-covered rocks of Jotunheimen, we see our onboard thermometer drop to -1 degree centigrade as we are surrounded by fog, sleet, and snow for about fifteen very slow kilometers.
As we make our winding descent towards the southwest, the roads narrow and widen at will and with only sporadic warning. (When Wade awoke in the middle of the following night, his forearms ached from the gripping exercise of driving this way.) Full-size lorries are allowed use of all but the narrowest routes.
The longest tunnel in the world is the Laerdal tunnel at twenty-five kilometers. It was completed a few years back at a cost of $1.1 billion. It is but one of at least twenty that we pass through – some close to ten miles long, others a couple of hundred meters. Because the tunnels are straight, one begins to look forward to another one because of the relief from rising, dipping, narrowing, widening, unfamiliar roads. Even though we see many more mountains and fingers of water as we near Bergen, the sunlit beauty of the place we left in the morning will stand in our minds, always, for the sharp-focused beauty of the western fjords of Norway.
We drop off the rental car at the Bergen airport in the evening rain and ride down to the old city center (Bryggen) on the airport bus in the dark. The old center of trade is still active, but new recreational and tourist elements have joined the ancient streets around the harbor.
A challenging, satisfying push to the southwest has filled memory with pictures and impressions indelible.
Wade goes down Bryggen to a pub where the Kim Fairchild band would be playing later. The poster showed a person who appeared to be an African-American female singing. A very small place with a very small cover charge… how much could this gig pay? Too tired to go back out, we crash with TV at our next hotel.
Sunday, October 3
Another sumptuous Norge breakfast spread and a walk between raindrops yields some photos and some window-shopping before a brief rest back at the hotel. (We reach our normal hitting of "the wall", that place on a trip like this where exhaustion and disorientation converge. This time it is exaggerated by our waxing and waning chest colds and flu symptoms.)
After a dose of the Herald-Tribune's English-language news, we walk around the streets of Bergen with the weather honestly changing every few minutes. A hotel umbrella keeps us prepared and the sun is never long absent. Up steep streets away from the water, we walk among tightly clustered houses at least two hundred years old. Views down both sides of the highest hill we climbed reach to harbors both recreational and commercial.
We pick up a sausage from a street side kiosk. The whole town is pleasantly slow during this season and especially, one assumes, on a Sunday.
After dinner, Wade went back out and had a good visit with the manager of Madame Felle. He had gone to university in Australia and had good insight into the differences and similarities of our cultures. His most salient observation: "I think most people in Norway would rather give help to people where they are. You can't have everyone leaving Africa to live somewhere else." Immigration of people different in appearance and custom (as opposed to the emigration of good Norske stock in the nineteenth century) is a big worry in Scandinavia these days. We have heard so in Sweden, in Sunndalsøra and now in Bergen—different ages and different perspectives.
Monday, October 4
A storm is upon the already wet-natured town of Bergen, the wind so strong that one had to lean into it; rain was intermittent, but the temperature was moderate.
Marisa has her best shopping day: one sweater for Wade and two for her; Christmas trinkets for family members. Wade goes to an "Internett Caffe" to check business and read headlines. Since dinner was served in the hotel as part of our price, we stay out of the weather in the afternoon and evening.
There is so much English on TV in Scandinavia. Between imports of shows like The Simpsons, ER, David Letterman, and Law and Order, there are BBC home improvement and reality shows. The fellow at Madame Felle said it was hard to figure out what the U.S. is like by watching American TV. Looking in with something close to their perspective here, one must acknowledge that we are the source of a stream of conflicting, troubling, and inspiring images and ideas.
The deep reservoir of good will allows all of us on both sides to contrive to enjoy each other at a distance and to welcome each other close up. In spite of political worries, there is little to suggest that our common ground is shaky.
Tuesday, October 5
The Bergen train station is a handsome, functional structure which invites us out of the 7:00am wind and rain. We are ticketed (at only about $20 each more than we paid to go from downtown Oslo to the airport last week) for Oslo and a dramatic, scenic, relaxing ride. Because of our previous beautiful skies, though, this sometimes rainy trip is more of a pleasant reprise. Wade sneezes as Marisa's cold moved into the coughing phase. It is a really good day not to be driving!
Arriving in Oslo at 3:00pm, we walk up Karl Johans Gate, the city's promenade that runs west from the train station to the Royal Palace, and locate our hotel: a good one, though the simplest, of our trip.
Back onto the street, Wade searches the area looking for our supper spot. Multiple restaurants which seem to play to international crowds are back on Karl Johans. We go out together into a place called "The Scotsman" which was… okay. We'll use the guidebook from now on.
Worn out and a little sick, we hit the bed at 7:30pm and to wake at 7:30am, perhaps slightly more healthy.
Wednesday, October 6
The hotel breakfast is familiar, but less comforting than before. Same ingredients, but we are wishing for our own cooking or something. (This is typical after only two weeks: enough time to get tired of new stuff, not enough time to adapt to new stuff.)
A walk takes us past the palace and then down to the water's edge and its government buildings, ships, and museums. We choose the Norwegian Resistance Museum at the Akershus Fortress, a display of that April 9, 1940 attack and the consequent Norwegian effort to survive occupation. The museum itself is of a type seen around the world in its multimedia, three-dimensional display of photos and documents. The story is important and probably says much more about the generation just passed than it does about Norwegians walking the streets now.
Clouds take over and we use the hotel umbrella we brought along. Our best lunch to date is at Jens and Company. Marisa has the fisksuppe and Wade the curry chicken salad. The bone-weariness knocks us down for a nap of a good ninety minutes. When we awake, we stroll all the way down Karl Johan to the train station for another good meal at the Kristiania Bar and Grill.
More fish soup – better than the last – and a Greek salad for Wade (including potatoes??). Wade mentioned to Marisa that potatoes don't go in a Greek salad. "This is a Norwegian Greek salad," she answers. Wade places the order and says the same to the waiter. "Yes, but," he says with a kidding smile, "this is a Norwegian Greek salad." He comes back to tell us that he told the chef that there are no potatoes in a Greek salad. "Sure, there are," says the chef. "See, they're right there!"
The stroll back up Karl Johan is slow and punctuated by many stops for gazing into the windows of shop after shop, most of them closed at this hour of 7:30pm. Near the National Theater, we select a little coffee shop and watch the crowds leaving nearby restaurants for the start of the night's performance. We make a 6:00pm reservation for the next night at Brasserie 45 nearby.
Thursday, October 7
We awake to a sky mostly clear and go down for breakfast, noticing again that we are tiring of the breakfast spread. Our slow walk to the water and then to Akersbrygge – a shopping center on the harbor – reminds us of the trend in refurbishing of waterfronts in major ports around the world as large-scale freight operations are removed to different locations. The food at the Albertine Cafe is our third good meal in a row (thank you, Frommer's). We stroll and window-shop, pulling out the umbrella for long parts of our walk.
Our meal at Brasserie 45 is fair, but the exercise of making and keeping the reservation makes for a special date. We walk home in the rain and read ourselves to sleep.
Friday, October 8
Our last day in Norway. The sky is bright blue and we walk to the transit station to buy all-day tickets. Marisa takes us to the places familiar to her when she was a student at the University of Oslo some twenty-two years ago.
Frogner Park is surrounded by autumn colors and the sun is low and sharp in a deep blue sky with few clouds. The sculptures of Gustav Vigeland are of ordinary people in plain poses – and strange ones. They seem to have a tonic effect on the many visitors. For about the fifth time since arriving in Oslo, we encounter small children and their young minders taking in the same sights we are. Each two-foot tall child wears a vest like a roadside worker, reflective tape and all.
Back to the train, we make our way to the suburban Blindern campus of the university. Marisa finds the campus the same, but the surrounding development is confusing. We buy sausages for lunch and sit among the students in the courtyard. We continue on to her old apartment in the Sogn Studentby, which is even more camouflaged by change. The blue sky and mild temperatures continue.
Up to Holmenkollen we go, near the world famous ski jump and one of the highest places around Oslo. Looking back at the city on the water, it is a perfect autumn vision for our last day. We have coffee and carrot cake at the Holmenkollen Restaurant with a few other patrons enjoying the mid-afternoon view.
We take a slow walk back from the central train station and up Karl Johans Gate, jammed with shoppers and those who will soon begin to celebrate Friday evening. This pedestrian-only street rises as it leads into the heart of the city, away from the station and just north of the water. Oslo is small. Its compact accessibility and pedestrian-friendly layout make it good for the feet, the eyes, and for peace of mind.
Saturday, October 9
Up at 4:30am, we make it to the train station by 5:45am to catch the express train to the airport. We pass a dozen revelers from the previous night who are just going home. We fly Oslo to Prague, where Marisa hits another jackpot for goodies in duty-free shopping. She finds some Bohemian crystal she has longed for ever since she passed up the chance to get some when we were in Prague eight years ago. The service on Czech Air is lovely, and we fade in and out of sleep, before and after food and movies.
As always on a strenuous return trip (we will be awake for most of the next twenty-four hours), the immediate memories of our experiences are too near to recall except in bits. Our minds turn to our own home and the comfort it represents. But the sensations of our time, the overpowering beauty we have witnessed, these will stick with us, just as have our other excursions into the lands of others. We are changed, refreshed, annoyed, entertained, humbled, instructed, worn out and inspired.