Norway in a Nutshell 2014

I saw Norway with my own two eyes. Could’ve been just one eye, but fortunately I recovered from my eye surgeries and saw the country just as I had hoped to—beautiful, bountiful and blessed with gorgeous landscapes, hospitable people and abundant natural resources.

We began our trip onFriday night, flying on the Dreamliner direct from Oakland to Oslo. This was only the second flight for the aircraft – and luckily ours was on time and without incident. We were served a light dinner (with Ed eyeing my gluten-free special) and then slept till arrival.

On Saturday, May 31, we checked into the Oslo Clarion Hotel, near the City Center and the Royal Palace. The next morning – and nearly every morning – we feasted on a Norwegian breakfast: fresh tuna and often lox, sardines, reindeer sausage, brown goat cheese, dark bread, muesli, weak coffee (I took mine at the local coffee shops). We ate enough to get through to an early dinner, which most nights included fish. On our first day out we found beautiful weather with locals and tourists jumping into the fountains just outside our hotel.

We were met by our cousins Hakon, Marianne and Eirik. We walked toward the Akerbrygge – a beautiful high-tech area of the city. While there we were treated to a fabulous lunch of fresh hake on the waterfront.

Our cousin Hakon heads a Lab at the University of Oslo; he is a source of countless facts about the country and no doubt the world, as he is constantly traveling. Hakon’s brother Eirik is just about to graduate from law school. Many of the Kvale family are either teachers or lawyers…and both are held in great respect. Education is a priority – students often graduate fluent in three languages. At the end of our day, they introduced me to the best coffee shop in the area where I got my first double macchiato of the trip.

Everything in Norway is expensive and some things (alcohol) are very hard to get at anywhere near an affordable price.   We knew that before our trip, but hadn’t quite acknowledged how much this might affect our stay. It’s a rich county — Norway has enough oil to keep the country wealthy for at least the next 20 years. Supposedly much of that money is invested…and only 5% spent each year on infrastructure and other services. So, unlike the oil countries of the Mid-East, Norway is investing for the future and its people are living within their means.

That being said, Norway is the second largest market for Teslas, the high-end electric vehicle owned by family members Hakon and his dad Thor. Hakon explained that it’s a very cost effective car, which, if everyone drove, would save the resources that are quickly being depleted in every country besides Norway.

The next morning we began our Hurtigruten in a Nutshell tour, taking a long but interesting train to Trondheim, riding along a river and countless acres of unpopulated land. There are only 5 million people in Norway….less than in the Bay Area. In Trondheim I found an antique shop with a very eclectic chandelier made of wooden moose. I would’ve loved to pack that up and take it home. But, I showed restraint. I couldn’t imagine stuffing that into my suitcase. Nor could I pick up that package of lefse at the corner store. Lord knows it wouldn’t stand up to Stella’s homemade lefse.

That evening, Ed and I dined on enough sushi to feed a family of 8 … after which we walked around the city, winding our way to our hotel, the Chesterfield, where we fell into bed feeling a bit overfed (but with no regrets). A vintage ad with Ronald Reagan extolling the virtues of Chesterfield cigarettes is prominent in the lobby of this non-smoking and old hotel.

After Trondheim we boarded the steamer “Richard With” for the two-day trip to Bergen. Lots of seniors (many of them Norwegian heritage) among the 240 on board the ship… some had been on the trip for 11 days. Probably not something we would want to do, as there wasn’t a lot to do besides EAT. I did have a great night of sleep, rocked to sleep by the gentle ocean waves. I slept so well I dreamed of kittens. And of course we reminisced about our first trip to Alaska – Ed and I – exactly 16 years ago to the day…. on the good Lindblad ship “The Sea Lion” with Bob and Nancy. That was the beginning of this chapter of our lives – together.

After an overnight in Bergen and a dinner feasting n reindeer – off on the Flam railway, bus tour and ferry up the fjords to Voss. Land of a thousand waterfalls (we photographed at least 500) and fantastic scenery. The land of long days – darkness at 11pm and light at 3am. Norwegians seem to be up as long as it’s light—I sense that they worship that sun when they can see it. And since their ozone layer hasn’t deteriorated so much as ours, they soak up the rays, apparently without danger of burning.

From Voss we took a bus to Gudvangen. Windy mountain roads and spectacular scenery. Then on to Flam for the fjord cruise, a 90-minute tour with a large group of Indian tourists. I had neglected to wear socks and jacket. It was freezing. Rick Steves talks about warm camaraderie that combusts among the strangers who come together for the experience–that didn’t happen for us with the group of rowdy Indians.   We gratefully returned to shore and boarded the train to Myrdal. On this trek, the engineer stopped long enough for us to take photos at a waterfall with a spirited and ghostly dancer on the cliffs. Fabulous!

At this point in the trip I believe we were close to where Jan was when she visited the place where it all began – our great grandparents Christen Kvale and Kristine Kvale’s’s farm at Luster, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. They were there in the late 1800’s till Christen died nearly a hundred years ago…he in 1919 and our great grandmother in 1917. I’d like to have seen the school or the Dale church where they were married. Thankfully we have photos from the research Jan has done. My dad’s mother Anna was born in Luster (or Lyster) in 1871 and headed to America in 1887 at age 16. That’s a story (historical fiction, maybe) that needs to be written.

Back to Oslo for a Tesla trip the next day to our cousin Randi Kvale and husband Thor Stensland (Hakon and Erik’s parents) farm in Ashim (Askim?), just 30 minutes from the Swedish border. They were wonderfully generous and spent what was the highlight of our trip – a visit to the church where Hakon and Marianne were married, and where were able to visit the graves of my grandmother to visit Anna’s brother, Olav, and his children —

Finn, Ragnar, Alvild and Sigrid. Per (Alvild’s son) and his wife Kjersti joined us for a fabulous meal of Norwegian crab and local steak – eating like kings due to the generosity of our Kvale cousins. Randi’s father is Ragnar who is my father’s first cousin. Per and Kjersti took us to their ranch with their many horses, including a few small ponies that are used to provide therapy for the disabled people who get to groom and ride at the ranch several days a week.

We next drove to Randi and Thor’s home, which is located next to the old house that Olav and wife Anna had lived in (photo to the right). Much of the furniture from Olav’s home has been restored and now lives in Randi’s home, so it felt almost as if we were visiting the old homestead – even though their home is beautiful and modern. Randi shared pictures of Olav andwife. He was headmaster at a local school for most of his working life. Randi is a teacher also – teaching law and English at the local high school.

The last day of our visit was Monday – a holiday in Norway. We met Randi at the Oslo train station along with Hildegunn, another cousin who was a delight to meet. All of them very travelled, cultured and generous in taking us to see the local sites – the National Museum with much of Munch’s art, including the Scream, and the Vigeland Museum with it’s thousands of sculptures of naked babies, naked children, naked old men and women… That was an amazing day – they showed us the best sights of Oslo. Wrapped it up with a trip to the Oslo Opera house where we traversed the roof and took our photos of the city.

Next day was our trip home from a wonderful vacation.   Meeting my Norwegian cousins was a treat I will never forget, and I hope it’s just the beginning of getting to know the many members of the Kvale family.

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