Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Norway Days 5 & 6: Saying Goodbye

A final goodbye to Norway. I don’t even know where to begin. The perfect weather, the incredible boat trip, our wonderful hosts making us breakfast at 5:30AM, the great flights back to Dublin… everything in the past two days has made my trip to Norway absolutely unforgettable. I cannot wait to go back to Scandinavia with my family someday—and maybe even discover some of my family history there, too!

Sunday morning started off a little slower than the others. We had been going strong for four whole days and we were all a little tired. The weather was perfect for eating outside, so we set up breakfast and brought our plates and hot tea out to the patio. We looked out on the mountains and the glass-still ocean and got excited for the boat trip ahead.

When 11AM rolled around, we all piled into the big van with our backpacks, hot dogs, and exploring shoes and drove over to the small launch where the family has their boat docked. As soon as everyone was on and everything was in order, we fired up the engine and went out across the fjord to some of the neighboring islands. On the way, we saw a swan swimming so quickly he left a wake! Apparently a few years ago the swans got so angry and protective of a certain area that they started flying at boats and attacking people. I knew swans could be mean, but I definitely will not be offending any once we get back to Ireland.

The sun soaked into our skin and the breeze kept us cool as we made our way to a free dock on a small island called Skarvøy. (Sidenote: I have since learned that øy means island, so that makes sense for a lot of the place names I’ve heard these past few days. In this case, Skarvøy would then mean Cormorant Island. Pretty cool what language can do!) I knew we would be exploring, but I was not prepared for what we would find there. Right next to where we docked, not only were there free sheep running around with their babies, but a WWII war memorial with a swastika put right in the stone. We talked about how people want it destroyed. But personally, I agree that the Third Reich and the Holocaust are parts of history that cannot afford to be forgotten. If we destroy evidence like the stone, we concede to those people who forget it happened or those who believe it never happened at all.

After that profound introduction to the deep history this country has, we continued on and found many other abandoned and ruined structures from both world wars. There was a tunnel from WWI 1915, now too covered in mud and sheep manure to traverse into very far. There were also many bunkers and remains of buildings scattered around—some were completely intact with doors and all, and others were just a skeleton of walls. Amidst the grass, there was a little section of black and white tile flooring that had been exposed, picked at, and overgrown. These little memories were like ghosts of a past that Americans are not used to dealing with or interacting with. Just being on that island opened up a broad picture of what life was like not just back then, but what life would be like in a warzone. People remember these things. Those houses and those floors were once inhabited by soldiers doing their jobs, for better or for worse. Unused to this level of interaction with history, I walked around feeling haunted by a past that I have never been exposed to. It was eerie and eye opening.

Our exploring over with, we walked back to the waterfront for a good old-fashioned cook out: grilled hot dogs, salad, and chips. Delicious! I ate two whole hot dogs and didn’t even feel badly about it. Usually, I never miss summertime. But being away for so long has really made me look forward to coming home, relaxing on the sunny patio whilst sipping some sun tea, eating fresh vegetables and smelling the grill cooking something for later. The great warm weather and cloudless sky in Norway reminded me of all the great summer days to come once I get home. I left that little island feeling full and happy.

As soon as we got our things all packed up, we climbed back into the boat and drove a little further to an island called Herdla. It is home to more WWII ruins—the vast expanse of flat land that is now the largest farm in the area was once used as an airport. Many of the large concrete walls still stand, as do a few smaller buildings and a part of the runway. It is now a popular camping destination, as well as a bird watching site and a popular picnic spot. There is a beautiful freshwater lake on one side and a little sandy beach on the other, so it is perfect for families and people from Bergen looking to get into nature. We walked around there for a few minutes, watching others have their own cookouts. It really was a perfect day for being outdoors.

By this point, we were getting a little bit worn out. As beautiful as the landscape was, especially from the boat, even I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. The sun was warm, the fresh air was calming, and everything we had done in the past days started to hit me. But we had to make one last stop to visit some family members who were out on their own boats. We had passed them earlier on the way to Skarvøy, so we went back to where they were docked to say hello and have some dessert. The little inlet was calm and peaceful, with only one other person anchored. We set up the boat’s table and had tea, cookies, fresh strawberries, and lefse bread with cinnamon and sugar. I am going to have to learn how to make lefse now, because it was absolutely delicious. The strawberries went perfectly with the sweet filling and the bread. It was a perfect way to end a tiring vacation. Though it was a lot to do in a short time, it was all completely worth it.

The next morning, we woke at 5:30AM to eat some breakfast and get to the airport by 7AM. We reluctantly put food into our confused bodies and then set off for Bergen. On the way there, one of the craziest things happened—Percy Grainger’s “Irish Tune from County Derry” came on the classical radio station in the car. Not just Danny Boy. Not just a Percy Grainger piece. Literally the song that we play as an encore for our seniors and alumni. The song we play to say goodbye to the people we love, and to remind those who have left to come back so that we can tell them we still love them, too. It was like some sort of weird coincidence that cannot be attributed to plain chance. We drove on into the gorgeous morning sun and listened to our song, knowing that Norway was doing its best to say goodbye in the greatest way it possibly could. If it wasn’t certain before, I will never forget that trip and I will most definitely be coming back for an encore.

The plane rides both went well, even if we had to sit on a hot bus in Oslo for a half hour while something on the plane got fixed. It was a perfect day for flying, so nothing got at all in our way. We grabbed some “lunch” (and chocolate) at 10AM Oslo time and then caught the bus back into Dublin at 1PM Dublin time. We did have a very strange encounter with the passport control booth, however—they had us come through together, for one, which never happens because we are not related. And two, she kept us there for about five whole minutes just asking what we had done while we were here, how we were supporting ourselves, where we were staying, where we had been so far, when we were going home. I know that they have the right to ask all those questions, but… why? Why to two students who are traveling alone and have already been in the country without issue for two and a half months? They let us in for that long in the first place! Anyway, that was very odd. But she eventually let us through and we made our merry way back to O’Connell Street.

We breathed a sigh of relief when we got our things back into our own room. But it was a quick stop, since we were both pretty hungry and wanted to get some food to hold us over until dinner. We walked to a place called Rocket’s, which is a fast food version of the 50s diner place called Eddie Rocket’s that we ate at in Navan. I ordered a chicken tender basket and a brownie shake. I would get the chicken again, but not the shake. Sitting in the mall, drinking that runny shake reminded me of another summer staple I am looking forward to: good, hard packed ice cream. Even the “American” restaurant can’t beat true American ice cream. It is a hard thing to master.

The day was basically done after that. We said hello to our friends and our professors at dinner, then basically got ready for bed and slept a lot. In the morning, we are going to the Wicklow Mountains to see Glendalough Monastery and the surrounding land, so we need to get our rest! Saying goodbye to Norway and our amazing hosts was difficult, but I feel like we ended the trip on a great note. It was sad to leave, but it was time to get back “home” so that we could start preparing to go all the way home. Twenty one days seems like a lot, but I know that it will fly by.

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