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!