An intro to my week-long trip to Norway, following some old footsteps and walking down my own life’s path. September 6-13, 2016.
You may recall reading about my personally epic visit to Oslo in 2014. It was a mere two and a half years ago- although it seems like much longer. It was all so raw that time. This time was different, and even more epic.
One of the biggest differences was the impact of having completed every Norwegian language class that BYU offers, which is 6. That doesn’t make me fluent, but it does go a long way to boost my confidence when trying to speak Norwegian. Things made more sense this time and I got to use and practice my speaking skills- something which needs polishing all the time. I did blow my cover a whole bunch of times, meaning I had to reveal that I didn’t actually understand some piece of a conversation and we had to switch to English, briefly, and it meant that I had to explain who I was and why I was speaking a half-baked version of Norwegian that was sub-par where it should have been solid. But that’s ok; it’s a far cry from the meager language victories I won two years ago.
This time I went in September rather than March. While I enjoy a nice, cold spring day more than most people, early September’s weather was a glorious combination of fresh, crisp, cool mornings, bright, sunny, warm days and an occasional icy-wet wind and thoroughly soaking rain. I saw everything but snow. It was perfect weather! It also meant I had to pack all kinds of gear and schlepp it everywhere, but having a car for part of the trip was very helpful, not least because it had a nice navigation system.
Speaking of gear, this time I had a working DSLR camera! Last time, I had a lens that was on the fritz and way too many of my pictures were just shy of in focus. This time I brought my Lumix GH4, three lenses, a set of graduated neutral density filters, a warming filter and a tripod. I probably could have done without the tripod (and it made my suitcase extra heavy) and I probably would bring a polarizing filter next time. The GH4 is pretty good, though I am often disappointed in the clarity as I zoom in while editing. Anyway, it’s better than a broken Canon any day of the week.
This trip was different from the last one in its structure as well. Last time I was just soaking everything up like a pop-up sponge does water. This time I had a schedule and a timetable for the various things I wanted to do. Yes, there was even a spreadsheet involved. I had some space in each day’s schedule for wandering and discovering, but each day definitely had a schedule. The wishlist was still my own, but it had a sense of purpose. There were no museums this time and only a few of what might be called “regular tourist destinations”. I wasn’t there to have Norway present herself to me face to face; I was there to work alongside her to find and understand some physical locations and to discover what she had to show me about herself and about me. Norway is very cooperative that way.
(A gentle waterfall in evening light on Fv755 (route 755) above Austbygde, in Tinnkommune, Telemark, Norway.)
This time I didn’t just stay in the modern city and suburbs; I drove west to rural Telemark fylke (county) and explored a route taken first by my great-great aunt and uncle in 1962, and again by my grandparents and parents in 1967. I was able to locate some of the same places they had visited during that legendary European camping vacation which still stands tall in the collective memory of the extended family- including mine, although it took place five years before I was born. The stories told and pictures shared have influenced generations.
Another difference was the breadth of personal interactions I had with Norwegians. Some of them were folks I had contacted prior to my arrival and with whom I had set things up, and some of them were people I was meeting cold for the first time with no warning to them. It would have been terrifying except that… somehow it wasn’t. I’m not one to go up and knock on a door and introduce myself to a complete stranger in a foreign language and ask permission to photograph their property, but that’s what I did anyway. And it was easier than I thought it would be. Maybe it helped to know that someone I was related to had once belonged there, so I didn’t really feel alone. And it helped that Norwegians are just very nice people.
As I made my way through this part of Norway, I had a Spotify playlist going. One of the songs is called “Livets lyse side” by Finn Kalvik. A good, old-fashioned (1988) Norwegian folk song. The chorus essentially says, “I live here on the bright side of life, where the soft voice of nature always reaches me. I cultivate my body and soul in order to feel good and to be filled by everything the days bring with them.” More or less. (And the fan-made YouTube video with animated rainbow hearts is just about right. Norwegians are not afraid to be unabashedly happy. No side of cynicism needed.)
Anyway, the point is that this isn’t a city song. This is a song to listen to as one drives through the Norwegian countryside. There were many such songs on the playlist, including several by Little-Bear Son-of-Nils (Lillebjørn Nilsen). “Children of the rainbow” made me smile every single time. I know very few people who can ride in the car with me while I listen to/sing along with stuff like that, my youngest son excepted. Sunday even had its own playlist which managed to match the unspeakable beauty of a morning drive along a lonely wet road through smokey clouds lifting from the depths of the dells, rising up and away as the breaking sunshine came glistening over a series of glades and forests, hills and vales and lakes. My soul was on fire and my makeup never quite recovered from being dabbed with a tissue at every turn of the road.
You just can’t even make this stuff up. It’s so incredible. I have posted many of the images from my trip on Instagram, and on one post I claimed that Mother Nature does in fact play favorites and Norway is her Number One. I’m sorry, Canada, Montana, Yellowstone, Washington state, Alaska, and Vermont; I’m afraid it’s true.
My next post will be more of a travelog with more details than you probably need to know about logistics and so forth, but it will be there just in case you do need it. And more pictures.