My travels’ log. Part 1, because otherwise it would be too long to read. September 6, 7, 8, 2016.
Having left Salt Lake City on September 6th, I arrived in Oslo via Chicago and Paris on September 7th at around 1pm. I exchanged some cash at the airport and bought a train ticket to the city center. From there it was a relatively short walk to my hotel, but I had a large suitcase and two smaller bags with me, so it seemed like a very long walk. I dropped my bags in the room and headed out for an exploratory walk.
I walked down to Aker Brygge and the harbor area. Stopping in at a little grocery store there, I bought some hearty whole-grain crackers and a drink to go with an egg and shrimp sandwich. Lunch would be a late picnic eaten on an island in the Oslo fjord. I had bought a 24-hour public transportation pass at the airport (put it on the plastic card I saved from the last trip) and I activated my card and waited for the B1 ferry line at the docks. The ferry, which was full but not packed, went to an island or two before Gressholmen. I got off there and headed to a rather secluded cove on the northeast side, not far from the dock. There was another woman nearby, but otherwise, no one. Sitting down on a rock, I ate my lunch and soaked my tired feet in the cool water that lapped the pebbled shore. I got out my sketchbook and colored pencils and made a sketch of the view to my right. So peaceful. So quiet. So calm. My travels of the last 24 hours began to ebb away and began to be replaced by something much more enjoyable and refreshing: vacation.
As the low autumn sun wound its way around to the other side of the island, I picked up my things and walked along the well-worn path toward the swimming area on the south side. I perched myself on a windy outcropping between two small beaches. There were bathers on both and a (non-bathing) middle-aged couple at one, just enjoying the evening warmth and light together. Soon, a group of teenagers came and sat by me, asking if I had a lighter. I didn’t, and some of them wandered off in search of one. The sun was sinking very slowly and I knew that the ferry would be back in a little while, so I made my way back along the west side of the island to the dock.
The ferry ride back to town made several stops at other islands and I got a nice little tour of the area. Reminded me a lot of Nova Scotia. A lot. When we arrived back at the city center, I walked to the hotel. Dinner in my hotel room was one of the packets of StarKist tuna I brought with me from home. (Yes, I brought fish to Norway. I’m just weird like that.)
The Saga Hotel Oslo Central was a nice looking place, with dorm-style rooms. I had stayed in a similar kind of hotel on my last trip so I thought I knew what to expect. However, it became clear that the Saga Oslo Central doesn’t officially keep track of gender as they book the rooms- they go by whether or not they can tell the gender of the names that are booked, if they care at all. When they expect to be fully booked, they do not sort by gender, they just put people in rooms. Our room of two women got a nice Norwegian fellow assigned, but neither he nor we were thrilled about that arrangement, so it took all of us complaining to the unsympathetic front desk clerk to get it changed so that a third woman was assigned to one of the remaining bunks and the man was assigned to another room. On that note, I went to bed early- exhausted, and grateful that I was only staying there one night.
On Thursday morning I awoke early, showered, had a really good, hearty Norwegian buffet breakfast at the hotel, then headed out into the city for a morning walk. The bright, horizontal sunlight was coming up over the cool, morning dew and the city center was bustling with all sorts of people going all sorts of places. There was an energy to the rhythm of the streams of people. Bicycles going everywhere, pedestrians flowing out from the T-bane station, buses, trikks (trolleys), and even a few small cars made their way through the streets. I walked up Karl Johans gate to the castle and its gardens and back down through the maze of side streets.
It was beautiful. I felt a small amount of guilt at not being a participant in all the city’s productivity which was beginning to swell for the day. As I walked at the brisk pace of those around me, I felt their satisfaction in being useful, their happiness in their various contributions to their society, and I wished I could be a part of that. But I took some satisfaction in knowing that my tourist dollars were a kind of contribution: a resource which, collectively, paid the wages of some of those around me.
As I walked along Stortingsgata and Tollbugata, I passed by two different men whose Norwegian accents sounded like gold and almost tasted like honey. I had the sudden desire to follow each of them for the rest of the day just to listen to their voices and the pattern of their words, but of course I didn’t. It was unforgettable, though, that sound. The rise and fall, the sweetness and color of it. The movement in time and space and the way their particular accents stood out from all others. Remarkable, the way their voices drifted away and left me wanting to hear more.
Back at the hotel, I packed up my bags and walked with them back to the central train station. I went just two stops and got off at Skøyen. The Enterprise car rental desk was inside a local Toyota dealership and Emily, who for all the world looked and spoke as if she were a BYU student, helped me get things set up. I stepped into the nearby gas station for a couple of flavored waters (pear was my favorite) and a couple of treats (a kvik lunsj and a marsipan bar) to supplement my leftover Norwegian whole grain crackers.
And, suddenly, I was driving west on E18, free from the city and the constraints of public transportation (as easy as public transport is in Oslo). I put on the “Norge i høst” playlist I mentioned in the previous post, and sang along as Reflex and Benedicte Knutson gave their all in the gospel song “Jeg er på vei/I’m on my way“. Going in the right direction in more ways than one. I passed Sandvika and Asker, then ventured into territory that was new to me.
Drammen was a lovely city, nestled into a valley with a beautiful river flowing through the center of it. The highway passes it by, but it looked quite nice. At this point, I took a very long tunnel and switched to E134 west. I was now in Buskerud county, and the road and scenery past Drammen began to strongly resemble I-89 in New Hampshire. In fact, it would have been easy to mistake the two if all the Volvos and Volkswagons could be replaced by Subarus and part of the spruce trees could be hardwoods like sugar maples. It was like driving through New Hampshire’s cousin and I felt completely at home.
Next came Kongsberg, a town I had learned about in Norwegian 340. Sadie had given a very thorough presentation about its history and the influence of the silver mine there, including the flavor granted the area by the German mine workers who immigrated there in the 1700’s. Very cute town. I noticed that the houses in this area were a slightly different color palate than the previous places. There were grays and desaturated purples and greens here. I’m not sure if that has a physical or stylistic connection to the silver mine or not, but it was interesting to note. Traditionally in Norway, many houses were red, yellow, or white. Red, being the most abundant due to the iron ore in Norway, was the cheapest. Yellow was the color with a moderate price and white was by far the most expensive color of paint one could buy, so fewer outbuildings and barns were seen painted in those lighter shades. Those rules no longer apply, but the traditions can still be seen.
Past Kongsberg, I kept west on 134, crossing into Telemark county. Here, the landscape softened and I was immediately reminded of Vermont. Farms all over, many of them situated in unlikely settings on hills or mountains. Notodden as a town has grown up fairly recently but still has a sense of history and has an absolutely lovely physical setting. It is the closest town to Heddal, famous for its beautiful stave church from the middle ages. The Heddal stave church was definitely on my list of things to see for several reasons. First, its remarkable architecture and history. Second, it would have been the house of worship for some of my ancestors who lived in that area. I was interested in finding a few missing dates for those folks, so I was looking forward to inspecting the churchyard. (Genealogy 101, right?) I bought my ticket at the cafe in the beautiful renovated barn across the street, then headed over to the church, my list of ancestors in hand.
The local guide there was a very nice man. He wore a slightly casual version of the local costume and clearly knew his stuff. We spoke a mix of Norwegian (his with a dialect and mine somewhat broken, since we were using a set of vocabulary words with which I was only somewhat familiar) and English (his heavily accented, but thorough). He knew all kinds of things and answered every question I had about the ages, the materials, the structure, the history and the spirit of the place. At the conclusion, I asked about the graves and wondered if he could point me in the direction of the ones from the late 1700’s. Well, as it turns out, only the ones with iron crosses remain. There is limited space in Norwegian cemeteries and grave plots and headstones are used over and over again through the generations. What?! Yes. A family might own (maybe rent?) one or several plots and they make use of them more than once. I couldn’t explain the details of it to you, but every visit I made to a churchyard verified that there are no headstones past the early to mid 1800’s remaining. A few iron crosses, yes, but none with my ancestors’ names on them. The church records are online, of course, but I was hoping for a slightly easier needle in a slightly smaller haystack. Oh, well.
Back at the renovated barn, I checked to see if the office for the graveyard was open, but, alas, it is only open on Tuesdays. I spent a few minutes in the basement where they had an exhibition with some stave church related art. Quite nice. I highly recommend the Heddal stave church for a visit. The cafe looked good and had waffles, baked treats, and soup (I think?) as well as gifts. Lovely location and feeling there. They are open from late May to the beginning of September. In fact, I chose my travel dates so that I would not miss the opportunity to visit this church.
Leaving Heddal, I headed west again on 134. From the intersection of 134 and 361 on toward Sauland looked exactly like a stretch of road between East Middlebury and Bristol, Vermont. Absolutely uncanny. The only difference was that the farm outbuildings were all in better repair. And the lack of Subarus, of course. But, again, I had the overwhelming sense of being home, despite that fact that all of it was new to my eyes. That’s a deeply moving feeling indeed.
I stopped at the white church in Sauland (“sheep country”) for a quick tour of the grounds. There was a small backhoe working a plot on the edge and some people watering flowers at a headstone. This church was finished after my Sauland ancestors emigrated to Wisconsin, so there wouldn’t have been anything in that churchyard anyway; their forefathers would have been buried elsewhere, probably Heddal or Hjartdal.
Across from the church there is a road that heads south up the mountainside, called Frølandvegen. (By the way, Gule Sider’s kart provides a far better map of the particulars in Norway than Google does.) The road ends at a series of farms before a gate closes off the rest of the road. I stopped here and looked for the farm that most likely had the house I was looking for. I had an old picture of the front of the house with its classic Telemark decorative style, but none of the houses matched it exactly. So I chose one, belonging to a Mr. Frøland, according to the mailbox. I walked up the impeccably maintained gravel driveway, past an immaculate two-tone painted stabbur granary, to the main house, painted a similar red and white. I rang the doorbell and only then considered what I might say to this stranger.
Mr. Frøland answered after a few minutes. He was a thin-ish man, dressed in a warmly-colored cotton plaid shirt, bright blue trousers and snappy suspenders. He was tall, but a little bent with age. His eyes were bright and clear and he smiled. In my best Norwegian, I stated my name and that I was visiting from the USA. I was looking for a house, and showed him the copy of the old picture. He said this house was not it, but that it was the one over the road, just a little farther up (south-west of his property). He said on old woman lived there. I asked if she might be at home (since that house looked deserted and there was no vehicle in the drive). He said she was most certainly at home, he was sure of it. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and I walked back down the driveway to my car by the mailbox.
I drove over to the Bergen farm, where Thone Svennungsdatter Bergen and her parents Svennung Johannesen Bergen and Bergit Hansdatter had lived. A few years after Bergit’s death in 1841 (the year their youngest daughter Ragnhild was born), Svennung and 6 of his children emigrated from this incredible place to the unknown in America in 1847. I parked by the house. The mailbox showed the names of a married couple and the decorative rose-painted thermometer by the door had the husband’s name on it and the year 1984 or 1989. It was hard to tell since the paint was old and weathered.
I rang the doorbell and waited. No answer. But Mr. Frøland had said she was surely at home and that she was old. I knocked. Waited. Knocked. Waited. After about 15-20 minutes standing there, I wondered if I might just take pictures without bothering her, but, no, that didn’t seem right. Finally, she opened the door. She was indeed old, and I immediately regretted making her come to the door. She was bent much worse than the farmer next door and her ankles were swollen. With respect in my voice, I explained who I was and that my ancestors had lived here. She said they were all dead. Yes, I said, and gathered that she was not a relation. But could I have permission to take some pictures of the property? I showed her the old picture of the house and stabbur. She said they might, indeed, be the same buildings. Anyway, she kindly said to go ahead and I thanked her and we said goodbye.
Knowing that this was personal property, I slowly walked to the backyard and then saw the “front” of the house. The decorative part was in the back! The house had been painted a cream and light blue since the 1960’s. The stabbur and some other outbuildings were there as well, and looked exactly the same. There were some lovely old tools and farm implements around the stabbur and the carving in the middle of the upper window says that it was built in 1812, if I’m reading it right. I spent a few minutes taking a video and some still pictures. The setting up next to the mountain was really beautiful and I think this might have been my favorite place on this trip. Very peaceful. She had a very old and worn string of Buddhist prayer flags strung from the house to a tree.
My grandparents and their children plus my father (before he became an official part of the family) traveled through Europe in 1967 and they had followed my great-great aunt Thora and uncle Bjarne’s directions to this location. They had a local guide named Dr. O. Hytta (yes, Dr. Cabin who made house calls to small houses, presumably) and a man named Fröland (who lived on one of the farms) who showed them around the place. That tall man in the cap in the bottom picture from 1967 looks a lot like the Mr. Frøland I met. In fact, there is a picture of his red and white stabbur among the pictures my grandparents took that rainy August day, but I didn’t have it with me on my visit. They are not the same man, since I know both their first names, but they are related.
My grandmother wrote this about their visit in 1967: “The Bergen’s parents had lived there and had several (3) sons and a daughter, Tone.* The farm was left to 2 of her brothers, which was when the second barn was built, for the farm was then divided in two. Then one brother died, and it was together again. Johannes Halvorson kept coming up in their conversation, and I understood that he was the one from whom Bergen bought the farm at first. It is still called the Bergen farm, and an old man lives there by himself now. He was up in the forest now, so we didn’t meet him. We gathered that he is a Bergen descendant.”
*This is interesting because I only have a record of two of the sons and 5 daughters, and the sons both died in Wisconsin. More work to be done!
I took pictures from two positions, then headed back to my car. I briefly considered stopping at the door again to ask if there was anything I could do to help her, but then thought that maybe she would not appreciate being brought back to the door. Her farm was clearly being cared for; the hay was neatly rolled, sealed, and lined up by the fence, the driveway had a fresh layer of gravel on it, and everything seemed in order. I left and drove back down to Sauland central.
I took 134 east, back toward Notodden but turned north on 361 just outside of Sauland. North toward the Tinn Sea.
To be continued….