The Last Hurrah

[again, writing this one year later…makes for sketchy memories, that’s for sure.]

According to my pocket calendar from last year, we had four days left in Moss following our return from our Hyttetur. And, based upon my pictures from that time, we kept busy during those four days. There was church, packing up, Wednesday night Bible Study, and the dinner parties.

Our dear friends from Poland, Anna and Leszek, invited us and the Froholts to a feast at their home on one of these last nights. Anya is a terrific cook and hostess, and, if memory serves, her meal was stunning. She served a seafood bisque which featured, among other things, the largest clams I had ever seen.

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For dessert, she had created a lovely cheesecake covered with a bounty of fruit from their own backyard–raspberries and gooseberries and mint. What was especially memorable, though, was her collection of homemade liqueurs! She brought out a cart with a serving top in the shape of a world globe which opened up to tiny liqueur glasses and decanters. She served us raspberry liqueur, lemon liqueur, and, finally, a pine needle one that, I kid you not, smelled of the forest. She jokingly referred to her collection as her medicines–and, you know, I felt a distinct cough coming on! What a delightful time with friends.

 

 

 

And, of course, Astrid and Asbjørn, the hosts with the mosts, threw us a going-away party at their place that week as well. The menu consisted of spekemat, vafler, sjokoladekake a la Maria, and diverse (whatever that meant). We all ate and talked for hours.

Finally, one last wing-ding was meeting Jorunn and Odd Olav at the Galleri F15 cafe near Alby Gård over on Jeløy one afternoon. We had not seen them since staying at their place in Sandnes back in 2015, and it was so good to connect once again.

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When planning this two month adventure, our goal was to spend as much time with friends as possible. I would like to think that we achieved that goal. We do not know when we will be able to return to Norway, but until then, thank you for listening in to our stories.

 

Ål–Hyttetur 2b

[disclaimer: I am writing this last blog post one year later. Wanting to create a book from this blog, and desiring a more complete project, I am finally finishing up our blog about our summer adventure. Like I mentioned earlier, life gets busy.]

The second half of this hyttetur consisted of a stop at the Gardnos Meteorittpark. Apparently a giant meteor crash-landed here eons ago and created a giant crater since covered up by Norwegian trees. We all had our very own private tour guide and we hiked up to the top of the park and meandered our way back down. She basically left us to our own devices–which wasn’t a disaster because there were wild berries to be found.

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We arrived at the mountain hytte of Øystein and Ragnhild Ås overlooking the town of Ål on the edge of the Hallingdal region of Norway. Their beautiful cottage was build by Øystein himself, not surprising since he is the son of a carpenter. He showed us around, and we also got a view of his large stash of moltebaer, or cloudberries, a mountainous delicacy, able to be hand-picked a few months of the year. Whether or not he really had such a stash is up for discussion as no photographs were taken.

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For dinner, it was all hands on deck, as we all helped in the preparation of grilled salmon (which Øystein caught himself), boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, and sliced cucumber with tzatziki sauce. Chocolate almond cake and moltekrem, which I do have a picture of, rounded out our meal.

Our driving adventure the next day was to the Hardangervidda National Park–a large flat expanse of rocks, water, and low brush with few inhabitants and more sheep. Norwegians actually traverse this expanse and there are regularly-placed tourist-hyttes for these hikers. One such tourist-hytte, Fagerdalen,  served us the best rømmegrøt I think I had ever eaten.

The last dinner on this memorable hyttetur was with ten of us–Otto and Grethe joined us as their childhood hometown was just a few kilometers around the bend. Following our dinner, Øystein was keen on showing us the view from farther up his mountain, so hike we did! Through neighbors’ yards, past bleating sheep, over rocks and white fluffy ‘reindeer food’, we all caught a view of the entire valley before us.

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As the six of us travelers returned to Moss the next day, we made a detour via the fjells of the Hardangervidda and the town of Rjuken, which was famous for its heavy water plant during World War 2.

 

 

 

Eggedal–Hyttetur 2a

Oh. My. Word. Life sure seems busier here than it was there–or maybe I’m just lazier. Or, it could be that work, like, gets in the way of living.  Somehow, going to one’s job, taking care of a house, car, pet, stuff, etc, takes more hours out of a week than not. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.  Be that as it may, I will continue with my writing about our time in Norway, even if we are not exactly in Norway.  And, this is big news, I may start writing a travel blog as a creative outlet after my Norwegian well has run dry, so to speak. I think I need a reason to travel more. Now, what to call it….

This post is about our four-night, five-day hytte-tur planned by our good friends, Magnus and Britt, and Asbjørn and Astrid, and Øystein and Ragnhild. Most of our friends in Norway own a vacation cottage, either in the forest, by the sea, or on a mountain. We spoke of this cultural phenomenon in our post, ‘Hytte Tur’, earlier in the summer. So, when our plans to spend two months in Moss were finalized, these friends banded together and planned this ‘program’, as they called it.

The first two nights were to be spent at Magnus and Britt’s hytte, in the mountains overlooking Eggedal. Astrid and Asbjørn picked us up on a Monday morning and we drove the three or so hours to their place. Our drive took us under the Oslofjord in a tunnel (Astrid was no fan of under-the-water tunnels). How engineers planned and constructed this tunnel is beyond my imagination. We are not talking a Moses-type parting of the waters so we can build the tunnel and then just let the waters back-type of project here. I guess this type of thing has been done before, and probably bigger too, but I was still impressed. We passed through the hometown [Simostranda] of the world famous Norwegian biathlete, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, often to referred  to by the nickname , the King of Biathlon. There was a statue of him along the side of the road, but we didn’t stop. He’s a pretty big deal in Norway. After driving through the valley town (village? city? It was always a point of discussion in the car as to what to call a particular place) of Eggedal, we started up the mountain to Magnus and Britt’s.

They had owned their cottage for 29 years, it had no indoor plumbing, and the most beautiful view of the valley. Britt is a veritable kitchen master having prepared and cleaned up years of meals in a kitchen with no running water. She should have an award named after her. They gave us the best bedroom in the cottage, the only one with the key view of the outside facilities. Like the previous hyttes we visited, one parked a short distance away and walked in. Speaking of the facilities, theirs was the nicest outhouse I think I have ever used. It had a kerosene lamp burning inside, a window with a lace curtain, a shelf, a basket with fragrant mulch to pour a scoop of in after one is finished, and a framed, glossy picture of the king of Norway hanging on the wall. Yep. First class. This was situated right next to the shower facilities–with brisk water from the well available for washing one’s hands or showering. They recently built a wrap-around wall for the shower (with a nice opening for the view), only because, after cutting down some tall trees, they saw that there was an actual neighbor on the same side of the mountain. Let me just say that if you have never taken a cold shower on a tree-covered mountainside overlooking a valley by the light of the northern summer sky late at night, you are missing something.

We ate lunch (a veritable smorgasbord), hiked along the road up the hill, had coffee, ate dinner (smoked salmon with mustard sauce, creamed spinach, boiled potatoes), and visited and read into the night. The quiet of the evening was broken only briefly by Paul’s screams from his icy cold shower.

The next day, we drove a bit over on the same mountain, to the art gallery and homestead museum of Christian Skredsvig, a 19th century painter, who lived here and whose paintings showcased the beauty of this valley and mountain life. This was a hidden jewel of a museum! It was beautiful, included a cafe, had an original on display which was loaned to them by the National Gallery in Oslo, and included a detailed, personal tour of his original house and furnishings. Although the guided tour was in Norwegian, there was an English language description in every room, and the guide spoke excellent English if we had further questions. Paul and I liked his work so much we bought two rather large prints of his paintings to hang in our home. Ask to see them when you stop by!

For lunch, we drove further up the mountain to a restaurant called “Tempelseter”, where, lo and behold, the lady working there was originally from Connecticut. She likes the mountain life. Our hosts suggested a meal of ‘spekemat’, traditionally Norwegian cured meats, along with cheeses, fruits, and flatbrød. We ordered three of them, and each couple finished off theirs without difficulty. What a delicious assortment of tastes to linger over during conversation with friends! Our time in the mountains over Eggedal ended with coffee, apple cake, and discussion over our planned route for the next day towards the town of Ål in Hallingdal where Øystein and Ragnhild would be hosting the six of us for two nights.

Until then, thanks for reading!

 

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial

“…Auschwitz is not a site of Jewish concern, Polish concern, German concern, gypsy concern, historical concern…It is a site of human concern. As such, we believe everyone should visit.”–Krakow in your Pocket

We knew we wanted to take the 6-7 hours it took to see this memorial, paying the $50/per person fee, taking the 1.25 hour bus ride there and back, and walking through the two sites with a tour guide. Now that we have seen it, we feel even more strongly that it was an important museum to see and would recommend it to others.  We met our bus and tour guide (‘Cracow Tours’) before noon having walked from Oskar Schindler’s Factory Museum and through Krakow’s Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) beforehand. On this full bus, we were shown a documentary about the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau by the Russian Army on January 27, 1945. We were driven to the small town of Oswiecim, Poland, which is the Polish name of the town. When the Nazis invaded and chose this town in which to house their answer to “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, it was renamed ‘Auschwitz’ and became their largest extermination center.  The memorial is actually two separate death camps–Auschwitz I, which housed up to about 16, 000 prisoners and was a former Polish Army base, and Auschwitz II/Birkenau (about 2 miles from Auschwitz I),  which housed up to 90,000 prisoners at its peak in the summer of 1944.

While we walked around and through the original buildings of Auschwitz I with our tour guide, it was difficult to imagine what it was like for the prisoners here. Some interior floors were scrubbed linoleum, the three-tiered bunks had actual thin mattresses on them, the three-story brick buildings were intact and were separated with a somewhat green lawn. No doubt it was quite a different site 75 years ago.  There were 28 buildings on the site–20 of them were there originally when the Nazis took over, and eight more were erected using prisoner labor. In addition, 20 one-story buildings were built in 1944 directly adjacent to the main camp and used for quarters for women prisoners, workshops, temporary SS barracks, and storehouses for property plundered from the Jews exterminated in the gas chambers.

We saw walls with photographs of Hungarian Jews brought here, whole rooms with piles of personal items which the Nazis failed to destroy as they attempted to remove all traces of their atrocities, rooms in which prisoners were starved to death for attempting to escape or for some other infraction. We walked through the courtyard between Blocks 10 (Medical Experiments) and 11 (Camp Jail) where prisoners were executed at one end and whose windows were boarded up in order to prevent other prisoners from witnessing. Our guide told us that taking photographs was allowed at any time during the tour except for two places–the basement of Block 11 and in the room where the pile of human hair was exhibited. She also said that selfies would not be appropriate.

It is not my bent to show extreme emotion most of the time, so I was not taken by surprise by not doing so here. I did witness one example of such passion though; a teenage girl with her mother had exited the crematorium and soon began kneeling down and weeping. Her mother hugged and consoled her as best she could.

Before our bus arrived at the second portion of our tour–Auschwitz II/Birkenau, our tour guide gave us the option of staying near the entrance, perhaps sitting in the cafe and having a drink (it was quite sunny and hot that day). She warned us that there would be a lot of walking (‘3 kilometers’) and no trees or shade. I think she was talking directly to me. But I decided to forge ahead anyway. For much of this tour, I was usually lagging behind, but eventually caught up with our group and heard most of what she said. By the way, as young as she was (maybe late 20s?), she showed extreme tact, professionalism, and knowledge in describing what most people would consider horrific actions.

Aschwitz II/Birkenau was unbelievably huge. Again, it held 90,000 prisoners (not counting the SS) at its peak in 1944.  At that time, there were more than 300 buildings, mostly wooden barracks, 40 more barracks for the SS,  11 miles of electrified barbed-wire fencing, more than 6 miles of roads, and 8 miles of drainage ditches–all built in 346 acres. This death camp was created to be efficient: the train cars stopped as close to the crematoriums as possible, prisoners were divided up immediately as either strong enough to work or not, and if not, were murdered that same day.  There were five total crematoria located here; “A report drawn up in 1943 by the camp SS construction bureau indicates  that the capacity of all five Auschwitz crematoria was 4,756 corpses per 24-hour period.” [The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Guidebook]. There are to this day traces of human ashes present in the vicinity of the crematoria and burning pits due to the dumping of ashes into the Vistula River at that time.

At the far end of the camp where the train tracks end is a monument to the victims. It was built in 1967, and, both physically and symbolically, marks the end of the road that, during the war, led to the gas chambers. There are 23 plaques on the monument, each of which has inscribed a text written in the principal language spoken by the deportees to Auschwitz.

On both sides of these tracks are the ruins of the two nearest crematoria, both were blown up by the Nazis as they attempted to leave nothing behind, no possessions, no people, no proof.  They failed in every way.

 

 

Three Nights in Krakow

It seems forever since we spent time in Poland following English Camp in Czech, but our time here in Norway has not been the total relaxing time we anticipated it to be. In the 12 days since we returned from Krakow, we have had just four empty evenings during which I would have written a blog post. And on one of those evenings, I did. All that to say, I’ll attempt to catch up with our lives here before our lives here turn into our lives there.

Our first introduction to Krakow was for one night prior to heading to the Czech Republic to meet up with the rest of the team for English Camp. We had gotten some tips for hotels from a friend of a friend by email back in the Spring, so, never having been to this city before, we took a taxi to the little Grace Apartments hotel. Looking back, I am sure we were fleeced by the taxi driver at the train station, but, tired as we were, and with the rain coming down, we agreed to his price. It was about $18 to take us down the street, oh, say, three-fourths of a mile. Whatever.

This was not exactly a hotel proper, with a 24 hour front desk, but rather a door from the street, and several flights of stairs leading to several landings with three locked doors at each landing. We had no wi-fi available to us since the Oslo airport, so we had not received the entry-code or room assignment from the hotel. Ugh. What to do? As we called the only number we had, a couple came up the stairs, and, seeing our frustration, asked if they could help. In English. (yay!) As it turns out, they were the same couple of friends from whom we received traveling tips about Krakow months earlier! Crazy! We knew the same people, he called our friend, BK, and said, “Guess who we are with?”, and handed the phone to Paul! What a small world. We all planned to meet for breakfast the next morning before we needed to get to the train station for Olomouc.

Dinner that night was at a nice local restaurant, where we sampled traditional Polish food…perogies.

Traveling in Poland was different for me, as it was the first time I have been in a foreign country not knowing a word of the language. I mean, really, I had not done any preparation for this, not a ‘thank you’, a ‘please’, a ‘I do not speak Polish’, nuthin’. I must say, it was a little discombobulating. So, what did I do? Oh, probably something that the Polish do not like: tried to speak using my broken Czech. Yep, that was very helpful, I am sure.

When we returned to Krakow for three nights after camp, we felt a little more at ease with how to maneuver through Central Europe, as we had been there for the past 11 days. The hotel we chose was Hotel Francuski, an historic hotel built in 1912 in the Old Town district of Krakow. Oh. My. Word. This hotel was so luxurious with attention to service…for a hotel built over one hundred years ago. We seriously liked it, in spite of their not having air conditioning so we kept our windows open,  and the building workers from across the small street began working at about 6 in the morning. The grand staircase, stained glass window, woodwork, bathroom fixtures, coffee and tea bar in the room, were all so sweet. Plus, their made-to-order and buffet breakfast was included as was a lunch box to-go upon request. All for the moderate price of around $106/night.

With only two a half days to explore Krakow, we decided to walk around the Old Town and the Main Market Square on the first day and take a half-day guided tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau on the second day.  Using the book that our delightful hotel provided, Krakow In Your Pocket, which we enthusiastically recommend, by the way, we traipsed around following their Old Town Walking Tour, stopping at each spot, and taking turns reading what the book had to say.  I have to say, the writers of this tour book were quite entertaining; for example: “The most important Polish city to not come out of World War II looking like a trampled Lego set, the rich cultural and historic value of Krakow’s Old Town earned it a well-deserved inclusion on the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage List back in 1978.”

Some of my more favored stops that day included listening to the hourly bugle call played from the left tower of St. Mary’s Basilica in the Main Market Square. As legend tells it, this is in honor of the night watchman who, in attempting to warn the populous of Tartar invaders who were attempting a nefarious nocturnal attack on the city in 1241, was killed mid-melody when an arrow pierced him through the throat. So, for centuries, (the first mention of the song was in 1392), this bugle call is done from each of the four cardinal directions of the left tower, and the bugler stops it each time at precisely the same spot as the original watchman.  Well, it may be true or it may be fiction made up in the 20th century. Paul doubts that an archer could have hit the guy in the throat from that distance.

We bought a bagel-type pretzel thingie from one of Krakow’s ubiquitous carts for lunch, had two shakes from McDonald’s (unlike Norway, fast food here was not expensive), stopped for pastries and drinks up at the castle, Wawel, and took a short guided tour at Collegium Maius, the oldest building of Jagiellonian University, which is the second oldest university in Central Europe (founded in 1364). Funny, the tour was supposed to be in English, but I challenge you to recognize much of my native language in what the tour guide said. Fun Fact: One of their more famous alumni was none other than Nicolaus Copernicus in the 1490s. I was pretty impressed.

Our evening entertainment was an hour-long classical music concert by a stringed quartet from the Royal Chamber Orchestra at St. Adalbert’s Church, in the Main Market Square. Dating from the 11th century, it actually pre-dates the Square itself. It is small, seating about 20 in its wooden pews. Following the concert, and discovering that we had put on about 16K steps according to Paul’s FitBit, we ate dinner at a restaurant in the cellar of an old residence next to our hotel–and that was our go-to restaurant for dinner for the next two nights as well.

Since I am going to write a separate blog about our tour of Auschwitz, I will finish this one with just a note about how we spent the morning of Day 2 and Day 3 in Krakow. We took a tram to walk around Schindler’s Factory, not having enough time to tour it, but wanted to see the location and walk through the Jewish Quarter, or Kazimierz, to meet up with our bus for Auschwitz. The original factory of Oskar Schindler, which he used as a way to save the lives of 1,200 Jews in World War II, was opened to the public as a world class museum in 2010. We read that it was a must-see, and it actually casts the city of Krakow in the main role of its permanent exhibition titled “Krakow During the Nazi Occupation 1939-1945.” If we ever return to Krakow, we will definitely make it a priority.

Finally, with a couple of hours free before we had to catch our flight back to Oslo, on Day 3, we leisurely strolled to the Main Market Square and hired one of the horse-drawn carriages for a 25 minute ride around Old Town. It was our first carriage ride, and having already walked around most of the town where we rode, it was especially memorable.  The tourists would take pictures of the horse and carriage, and I would smile and wave!

Sorry for this exceptionally lengthy post. I guess I didn’t want to forget our time there myself, so I included some extra details. Thanks for reading!

2 weeks, 3 countries, 4 languages.

For two weeks since my last blog post, we have traveled to the Czech Republic and Poland and participated in an English Language Camp along with our home church in Grand Forks and our partner church in Olomouc, CR. We also spent three nights in Kraków, Poland following our time in Czech. And while we were in Kraków, we spent the better part of a whole day traveling to and from and touring the Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi concentration camps. I am not going to try to squeeze all of these experiences into one blog post, but I will talk about these separately. Today’s will focus on the Czech part of our two-week journey.

Paul and I did not initially plan on taking part in this year’s English Camp in Czech. We had lead the team last year, and there has usually been a span of three years lately between our trips there. But, several stars aligned, if you will, and we decided to go this year. We joined up with the rest of our team of eight in Olomouc, CR one day following their arrival. My use of the Czech language was decidedly more rusty than in past years–mostly due to my ‘little grey cells’ being stretched as of late with having to speak and understand Norwegian! It was quite funny, really, to be trying to speak Czech with someone, and random Norwegian would come out of my mouth. Oh, well. It did disappear after the 11 days we were there.

It has always been great to reconnect with our dear friends from the Olomouc Baptist Church, some of whom we have known for 20 years. In that time span children have become adults, adults have gotten married and started families, and the church has grown and is now in the process of renovating their very own church building!

This year’s camp was again at Hotel Neptun near the mountain village of Mala Moravka about an hour and a half bus ride from Olomouc. There were a total of 79 campers, and when I say ‘campers’, that includes children, teens, adults, seniors, the American Team, the Czech Team.  We each taught or co-taught a level of English to a specific group along with a reading comprehension aspect using the Bible as text. Also, we facilitated a daily conversation group of between 6-8 people. There was a little afternoon free time, very little, as we lead optional workshops on various subjects that each camper could sign up to attend. Derek and I held an ‘International Food Demo’ one afternoon where we prepared three international party foods: Kremkaker (Norway), Tzatziki (Turkey), and 7-Layer Tex-Mex Dip (USA). I channeled my inner Julia Child that day when several things went a bit “off script” and we all just laughed and went with the flow. Everyone was able to taste a bit of our dishes.  Other workshops included “The Man Cave”-Paul’s discussion group for men only, “English Pronunciation” by Rebekah, our resident Speech Therapist, and “Let’s Dance”, a video-led dance-a-thon which took the place of Alyssa’s “Ultimate Frisbee” due to unexpected rain.

Evening activites included worship songs, testimonies, group games, a bonfire with s’mores and the delightful Czech sausage ‘Specacky’, a Talent Show, and the Graduation Night group skits. To show our support for Talent Night, Paul and I, along with the ever-enthusiastic eemcees for the show, Alyssa and Rebekah, lip-synced to ABBA’s ‘Take a Chance on Me”. Wow. What Paul won’t do for his stage-struck wife.

Our days are long, getting up at 6:30 am and usually getting to bed around midnight, and the week seems to fly by after the first day or so. After checking out on Friday, there were two optional trips planned for those who were interested: several hours in the spa town of Karlova Studanka or a hike in the woods to a waterfall. Due to my knee not being at its best, I chose the spa visit. There were ten of us walking through the picturesque town, seeing a small waterfall of our own, stopping for the requisite coffee and cake break, and having lunch before we caught the bus back to Olomouc.

The next day, my dear friend, Dafne, hosted Paul, I, Ilene, and her son, Jonas, for a delicious lunch at “818 Restaurant”, a Chinese restaurant on the 18th floor of the tallest building in Olomouc.  I had Jonas in one of my English classes many years ago, so it was especially sweet visiting with him now. Dafne also prepared homemade apple strudel for Paul..with his name baked right in.

Our team attended church at the Olomouc Baptist Church the following morning, and, afterwards, visited with everyone over pizza and coffee at Hrava Kava. Goodbyes are never enjoyable, but I prefer to say ‘see you later’ rather than goodbye. The situation may not be any different, but it sounds a bit more hopeful that way. Paul and I certainly hope to return to Olomouc again, although we do not know when that may be.

Next post: on to Kraków.

 

Off the Beaten Path in Oslo

That was the name of our bicycle tour yesterday. “Oslo Off the Beaten Path”.  We decided to go with the company “Viking Biking and Viking Hiking”, (#2 of 63 Outdoor Activities in Oslo on TripAdvisor) and since we had been to Oslo several times, we decided not to go with their Highlights tour.  Yesterday was our 34th wedding anniversary, and a day in Oslo was a great way to celebrate. The weather was forecast to be sunny and 80 degrees. We had a couple of errands to run while we were there, and we wanted to have a nice meal (meaning sit-down and not a kabob-to-go as our children may remember was all we could afford in 2002 on our trips to Oslo), but, otherwise, no agenda for the day.

Our tour consisted of 15 riders, between the ages of mid-20s to mid-60s, and one local guide. He had actually been a cast member for Disneyworld  for 15 months–working at the Norway part of Epcot–so his English was quite good. We began our tour at 10 am, and expected to return at 1 pm. There was a small mishap during our tour (it wasn’t me!), a rider fell and scraped herself in a few places, so we returned a bit later than expected.  Fortunately, we had, on our tour, two nurses, an orthopedic surgery resident, and another health care provider, so the patient was well-cared for.  Oslo does have several hilly portions of the city, so there were a couple of times where I had to dismount my bike and walk it the rest of the way up the hill, but, man, that last portion on the way back was fabulous–breezy, downhill, and a safe bike path. The long portion of the tour where we followed the Aker River through town was also lovely–tree-lined, bike path, mostly flat, and with occasional waterfalls.

Paul and I have taken bicycle tours of Paris, Prague, and New Orleans, and we have found them all to be great ways to see a city from a different perspective. I said early on our tour that we had already seen places I had never seen on our previous trips to Oslo.  We can recommend this method of visiting a new city wholeheartedly.

The place we chose for our lunch, Albert Bistro,–rather late at 3 pm–was along the Aker Brygge where the ferries and harbor cruise ships dock, with the large, brick, city hall in the distance.  Since the World Cup is happening in Moscow, and Sweden and England were competing against one another yesterday, there was a waterside restaurant with a giant outdoor screen showing the game and hundreds of restaurant guests watching the game.  It felt good to sit down for awhile, fill up on water (we drank over two liters), and people watch for a bit.

Our last errand for the day was to purchase a Norwegian item to donate for the Grand Forks Sons of Norway fund-raising raffle. Prices for high-quality goods are rather high, and I had done some research in Moss prior to this trip to Oslo so I would know what would be an appropriate item in our price range.  I remembered a good shop where Bonnie K. and I visited in 2015, and we were able to decide on a nice scarf. Yay, check that off our list!

Finally returned home at 9 pm (we had left at 7 am!), and, as Paul posted on Facebook, we had logged in 18,977 FitBit steps through the day. Whew. I wonder if they count the 2+ hours of pedaling we did off the beaten path?

Thanks for reading!

 

Nailed it.

Correct me if I am wrong, but that is the term used by Pinterest-viewing folk when they attempted to copy something they saw on Pinterest, but they didn’t exactly accomplish it to the level they had hoped.  Paul used this term when we were laughing about my attempt to recreate typical American food to serve at our little soiree last night. Basically, I came away with this: it may not be the best idea to try to copy American food unless you have all the ingredients and methods of preparation at your disposal.

Way back in ‘merica before we left, I purchased at Target in their cheap-o aisle some random Fourth of July things in case I had the opportunity to host a Fourth of July Fest. Cardboard coasters, napkins, an infinity scarf (cuz you just don’t know when you may need a patriotic infinity scarf). So, when it was clear that the 4th of July was open (i.e. our little church here was not having their usual Wednesday night Bible Time all during July because in July every single Norwegian takes off to the hills or seas or somewhere–more on that later), I started my plan to host a huge American-style Fourth of July BBQ (without an actual grill).

First, the guest list. Pretty much everyone. Okay, not everyone, but 22 people. Even though our little apartment only has a table for four. And one couch, two overstuffed chairs, two ottomans, a coffee table, and what looks to be an occasional table the size of a piano bench. I guessed we should make it clear that this was an open house, so please come when you can and leave when you must. [The invitations read: “Vil dere komme til vårt hus for en Amerikansk “Fourth of July Fest”. Onsdag 4 Juli klokka 6 til 10 pm. Det er en “open house fest”: kom når dere kan, dra når dere må”. Paul helped me with the translation.] I thought that way, maybe there would be enough seating at one time to fit everyone. I needn’t have worried.  Although my RSVP percentage was 100% (those Norwegian are so polite), most of our guest list was going to be out of town for that date. But, six of our friends were able to come, and we were delighted. And we had just enough water glasses to go around. We did not, however, have enough forks or dishes, so it was a good thing that a) the previous renters had left us a stack of paper plates (and what says ‘Fourth of July BBQ’ more than paper plates?) and b) Paul had gone to the market earlier in the day and picked up a box of plastic forks.

Now, about the food. Our menu was going to be typical American food–hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, watermelon, corn on the cob, potato chips, and for dessert, a Stars and Stripes cake with vanilla ice cream. Sounds uncomplicated. The potato salad was straightforward as was the watermelon and the potato chips. What became a little dicey was the type and preparation of the hamburgers and hot dogs, the buns, and the corn on the cob. The burgers were not the best (cuz, for one thing, the best would have been rather expensive), and the hot dogs, although the package promised us that they were ‘Norway’s most popular’ hot dogs, were not to the level, shall we say, that I would prefer my hot dogs to be (I like to buy Hebrew National, for example). The buns we bought (and there was only one type available) were fine for the hot dogs, but I thought the hamburger buns were dry.  Okay, the corn on the cob. Can I just ask, who would sell pre-cooked corn on the cob?? Ack! I live in the Midwest, my people, my kin, are corn farmers from Illinois. We buy ears of corn by the dozens in August/September when harvest time arrives. So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the first of three dual ear, vacuum-packed bags of corn on the cob, and discovered that they had already been cooked and only needed to be reheated. Reheated? I was basically going to serve my guests leftover corn? As I translated what the bag’s suggested reheating method was, I found it was to drop the sealed bags into boiling water for 5 minutes. Ugh.

The problems don’t stop there. My plan was to pan-fry the hamburgers ahead of time (remember, no grill, and I didn’t want to broil them in the oven ‘cuz I didn’t want our extremely sensitive fire alarm to go off–for more on that, read my earlier post from April 2015 when our fire alarm went off while I tried to make waffles at 5 am, and here in Norway, when the fire alarm goes off, the firemen come speeding to your house and you have to pay for it! ) and keep them warm in the oven. Also, I was going to boil the hot dogs (Paul thought this was a very bad idea, and he suggested that I pan fry or broil them as well, but I thought ‘no’ because of my previous statement). So, now we have, 20 minutes to 6 pm when our guests would no doubt be arriving right on time as all Norwegians do, three electric burners on and the oven warming up. Or so I thought. Then the hamburgers stopped cooking. The water for the hot dogs stopped boiling. The water with the bags of pre-cooked corn on the cob stopped boiling. And the light for the oven was off.  The oven and the range were not working.

Slight panic ensued. Until we thought to check the fuse box. Wherever that was. Paul translated the name under the one of ten switches that was not in the same direction as the others–‘range’. Bingo! Only had to switch it two more times during the cooking of our meal. So, by 6 pm, all was right with the world, except for the hamburgers which were sitting in a pool of grease in the oven.

Our guests were incredibly gracious and delightful. They brought hostess gifts–wine, an apron sewn by a Ugandan woman through the Norwegian mission agency Win-Win, and a Willow Tree figurine (entitled Beautiful Wishes) of a woman embracing a bouquet of calla lilies. It seems most Norwegians like to bring a little something when they are invited to someone’s home, oftentimes, flowers, a homemade food item, or a small gift.

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After Paul’s welcome speech and a song for grace for the food, we sang the National Anthem. You read that right. First, it was just me, then Paul joined in. By the time we were o’er the ramparts, the rest of the group was singing right along with us.  Pretty impressive. Not our singing, but that a group of people from another country knew our national anthem.

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The guests began leaving around 9 pm. We had coffee and my little flag cake with ice cream and homemade sølbær (sun berry–currants?) topping (gift from another friend) for dessert. It wasn’t my best cake–somewhat dry and hard, which may have been because it was kept in the icebox due to the whipped cream on the top. The whipped cream that I had painstakingly whipped in an old yogurt container with a whisk I had purchased the day before at the Fretex (Salvation Army Thrift Store).  You may ask, does everything have to be so dramatic? Yes.

p.s. there were lots of potato chips leftover, but not many slices of cucumber. This is Norway, after all.

American College of Norway–25th Anniversary Celebration!

One of the great bits of serendipity on our two month summer abroad adventure is that we are here, in Moss, to be able to take part in their several day celebration of their 25th year in existence. Paul has taught for ACN as a partner with UND twice before; Spring semester of 2002 and Spring semester of 2015. It was an extremely positive experience each time, and of course we would have desired to attend their festivities. However, had we not actually already been here, we could not have afforded the two round trip airfares and room and board for a short (or long) visit. BUT, here we are, and we were able to attend several events they had planned along with visiting alumni, both students and professors, staff, and, shall I say, dignitaries. 

The staff of ACN had been painstakingly working and planning for this week for a long time. It was obvious in their social media blitz, their decorations, their event programs, down to the toast in the historically significant room in the Konvensjonsgården, where, in 1814, the king of Sweden signed the constitution which transferred Norway from Danish ownership to Swedish ownership. [at this point, I asked Paul, ‘so, how is that beneficial to Norway?’ to which he said, ‘good question’.] But apparently, some terms of the constitution needed to be adhered to in order for Sweden to keep Norway, and in 1905 (yay!!), those terms were not met, so Norway gained her independence!! Thus, we all celebrate the 17th of May (or Syttende Mai). Whew. I didn’t expect to write a treatise on European political history.

Back to the celebratory events. We returned from our little hyttetur (see my previous post) last Thursday, and on Friday, Paul was able to join a bus tour of Moss and, more specifically, the previous locations of the American College of Norway during the past 25 years. There was one previous location on the nearby island of Jeløy in an old group home for the disabled, one was an old mansion which they outgrew rather quickly, one was in the Moss Library building which did not have space for student living quarters, and the present (and, I feel, the best) location is in the building they share with the aforementioned historically significant room in the Konvensjonsgården in the Verket neighborhood.  Since Paul taught in the building on Jeløy in 2002 as well as in the present building, he really enjoyed the tour. Plus, they all stopped at the Alby F 15 Cafe for lunch, so it was even better.

 

[You may be asking, where was I during this cool bus tour and lunch? Well, I had been previously invited to a friend’s house with some other ladies for coffee and cake. So, I was not just sitting at home alone. ]

 

After we both walked home, arriving within 15 minutes of one another, we were able to drop in on the waffle party open house which ACN was hosting in the dormitory garden area. Meeting up with additional staff I had not met before and previous professors at ACN was great; some of the guests had made a special trip to Norway just for this celebration.  Later, from about 5-7 pm, there was another open house at the school, where a cash bar had been set up (at fabulous prices, I might add. Paul bought two Coke Zeros to go at the end of the evening!), with snacks, a toast, room and time to mingle, great raffle prize opportunities, and some even stayed for pizza afterwards.

 

But, the big event, the finale, was the cocktail hour champagne toast which took place in the ‘room where it happened’ [nod to all my Hamilton-loving friends] followed by a banquet of delicious tapas-type delicacies in a nearby restaurant along a waterfall and river near the old mill area. There were speeches, old friends catching up (oh my, there were about 6 people from the first class in 1992!), a slide show, representation from the US Embassy, representation from the Norwegian Parliament (not to name drop, but he and his wife sat next to us!), and a marzipan cream cake with coffee to finish off the evening!

 

After all this, I am even more enthusiastic about the American College of Norway and our small participation in its work. Here’s to you, ACN, and another 25 years!

Hyttetur (Cottage Trip)

We returned today from a three night hyttetur–or a stay with friends in a cottage in the forest near the sea. It is hard to know how to begin to describe our experiences, and perhaps, Paul will at some point take a turn to write his thoughts. Until then, I may just ramble a bit from this to that, maybe returning to this subject in some future blog post, in order to try to remember it all.

The Norwegian hytte, or cottage, is a cultural thing. Many Norwegians own a small vacation home, not unlike a lake house which is common in the Minnesota area. They spend their down time there, weekends, summers, winters, whatever their particular hytte would accommodate. Hyttes can be in the mountains, forests, along the sea, usually away from the Big City. They are historically somewhat primitive and rustic, probably small, usually remote, and have a fireplace to encourage hyggelig, or coziness.  More recently, in the past generation, they may have more modern conveniences, like an indoor bathroom, electricity, hot water, or a dishwasher. Or not.

When our friends, Astrid and Asbjørn, and Britt and Magnus, came to North Dakota for two weeks in September of 2016, we did not have a hytte to which to invite them. So, we settled for a one-night stay in two cabins in Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where we cooked meals over the outdoor firepit, hiked in the woods, crossed the Mississippi River headwaters, and sang hymns into the night by Lake Itasca.  For our time in Norway this summer, they planned to host us for this hyttetur at two hyttes; one belongs to a son/DIL and the other is Astrid and Asbjørn’s. We all stayed in the first for three nights, and we spent the majority of one afternoon and evening at the second.

The first hytte is in the forest about 150 meters from the sea where one could fish or swim or boat. It is a modern cottage with a great wraparound deck and views of the sea. It seems to have been literally built on a giant rock, but we were told that there were actually trees and soil under the cottage. I still say it was on a rock. (which reminds me of the popular old children’s Sunday School song about the wise man who built his house upon the rock…but I digress.) It was remote-ish, in that our cars had to be parked about 150 meters into the woods, and we hiked to the cabin…over a giant rock. Like I said.

I cannot imagine the work that was required to build this cabin at this location. It was beautiful, and we all enjoyed our breakfasts, coffee-times, and evening meals at a different location on the deck with peaceful views. One late afternoon while we were having coffee and apple pie, a deer wandered past about 50 meters from where we sat. This may come as a surprise to most people, but there was only one indoor bathroom and shower for the six of us. If necessity struck, there was an outdoor privy down by the storage shed. There was also an outdoor shower, but it was not required for this trip.

Astrid and Asbjørn’s hytte is about 1.5 hours from this one, still in a forest, and hidden among the trees with a waterfall and river down the bank about 25 meters. It is an older cottage with two levels, three bedrooms, and a tiny indoor bathroom with a compost toilet.  To bathe, one would simply go to the river and pool and bathe in the  fresh water. They have a large outdoor kitchen prep area with a stone fireplace (as well as a compact indoor kitchen)–in fact, at their cottage, all the stone and concrete work was completed by Asbjørn himself. As the story goes, he was involved in the initial building of this hytte 20 years before owning it. We spent the afternoon and most of the evening visiting, walking, preparing the meal, and eating at, what I described as, the best seats in the house. The sunset, the waterfall, the river and pool, the peaceful forest; all so hyggelig.

Britt and Astrid planned the food for this trip so thoughtfully; we are humbled by the love and care they all bestowed upon us. We ate crab legs, duck confit with roasted vegetables and a mashed potato/broccoli sidedish, deer flanks with roasted potatoes, and papaya, and a deep dish quiche with green salad (yay, I made these!). Each morning, Asbjørn set out a breakfast buffet which we enjoyed eating, again, while sitting out on the deck overlooking the sea.

We also visited two smaller towns along the coast, Kragerø and Risør, during the days. I’ll write about those in another post. Thanks for reading!