Thursday, May 5, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Bergen Days 1 & 2: "What's the whale's name from Moby Dick?"

Wow. What a day yesterday, and what a morning today. Things have been action packed so far, but everything has gone smoothly. Our flights were on time, my outlet adapters work, and we climbed a mountain. I tried some huckleberry jam on bread and traditional Norwegian brown goat’s cheese and fell in love with both. I can see the mountains and the ocean from our bedroom window, as well as all of the other windows in the house. Diana’s family has been the best of hosts in every way. I think I will have to come back to Norway some day—that is how impressed I have been in the past 24 hours.

Everything yesterday went smoothly. We boarded the Airlink Bus to Dublin Airport at 10AM, got off at Terminal 1, and then went swiftly through security to our gate. We did some shopping in the Duty Free section and decided we would bring some Butler’s chocolate as a gift for letting us stay here. Then, an hour later, we were boarding our plane!

The first flight was about two hours and landed in Oslo. It had an absolutely amazing view of mountains and landscapes I have never seen before. The snowy ground looked alien beneath the plane. I was fascinated. We flew lower and lower in between the different peaks, then finding the runway right in the flat valley in the center of two. We had made it to Oslo!

After a bit of a confusing exit and reentry through passport control and international customs, we found our second gate and had to wait a little while for the next plane to arrive. It eventually did, and we boarded without trouble. 18F is now my seat for the rest of my life. This flight was not as visible, since we were flying into clouds toward Bergen for another hour. When we lowered enough to see the ground, however, we found an even more different landscape than our own: islands, sea inlets, and little pockets of civilization in between them. Boats trolled through harbors, sailboats flew with the wind. Everything looked a little bit magical.  

Diana’s cousin and his daughter met us at the airport and drove us back to their home. We got to see downtown Bergen and all of the historical houses, halls, and harbors that make it up. There is a very famous fish market that was not running that late at night, but had been earlier in the day. We crossed a cable bridge and then a floating outside of the city to get to the island where they live. From there, it was smaller roads much more like what I’m used to. It felt a little bit like home.

Dinner was a traditional spread of homemade bread with various toppings. Fish in tomato sauce, huckleberry or strawberry jam, brown or Swiss cheese, boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, honey, butter, dried mutton, ham, caviar… just about everything. We ate as we looked out onto the fjords outside the kitchen window. It was the best meal we’ve had on this whole trip, simply because it was fresh, home cooked, and unprocessed. Simple. I loved it.

The sun didn’t set until around 10PM, which is crazy but true. It is a little bit like the middle of summer at home when the light doesn’t really leave the sky until we all start to go to sleep. I got to see the sun fall under the clouds and mountains off in the distance. It was beautiful and the perfect way to go to sleep on my first night in Norway.

We rose at 8AM the next morning for breakfast and preparations for our mountain climb. We were going to go to one of the tallest peaks and drive three quarters of the way up, but it turned out the remaining quarter was sheer cliff face that went straight up. Needless to say, we decided on a slightly less steep, local peak called Brakstadfjellet. We learned that fjellet means mountain, and det fjellet means that mountain. We also learned that hei means hello, takk means thank you, and tusen takk means thank you very much (or, directly, “a thousand thanks”).

Linguistically this place is fascinating for me to learn about. Diana’s cousin is very good at English because his father, who still lives in Norway, taught English in secondary school for many years. But they speak English with a slightly Russian accent, which is not something I expected. It makes sense, though, when I realize that the eastern peninsula of Russia connects to the top of Norway. It really forced me to think about where I am and how that affects language.

Plus, there is so much linguistic history here. Apparently when Diana’s grandpa moved to the US, he learned English well enough that when he would come back to Norway, he would speak in the old Bergen dialect but with an American accent. That is absolutely crazy, and absolutely fascinating from a cultural point of view. Immigration might alter accent, but because he spent so much time away from Norway before coming back, his dialect was actually a little outdated based on the evolution since his departure. Awesome.  

The climb took a little longer in total than the previous plan would have, but had just as nice of a view with an easier path. Even so, the path was not marked like those in Ireland were. Things are muddier, rockier, more unstable. It was what I would call a true mountain climb rather than just following a marked, switch-backed path complete with long stretches of flat, stable wooden blocks. The wind was also blowing something terrible—almost so much that I sometimes thought it would carry me away. This was a real hike. I loved it.

Getting to the top was fantastic. We could see almost 360° all around the coast, including a freshwater lake, multiple fjords, mountains, islands, cities, and ocean inlets. It was completely surreal to sign into the Norwegian logbook with a, “from Chicago, USA” written next to our names.  It was even more surreal to then sit on the rocks at the top of the windy mountain and drink earl grey tea and eat kvikk lunsj (“quick lunch”), a type of “hiking chocolate” that tastes like Kit-Kat, but infinitely better. We could see mountains all around us that got hazier in the distance. That is probably my favorite part about Norway so far: seeing mountains that extend as far as the eye can see, with water in between all of them. It’s nothing short of magical. I can tell why people fall in love with Scandinavia so easily!

On our way back to the house, Diana’s cousin drove us through around for some nice views of the surrounding area. We got to see some adorable lambs right next to the road, with promise we might get to hold one later when we visit his dad’s house for dinner. We also learned that the pine trees that cover the mountains were not actually covered with what we would consider native Norwegian pines—the ones there today were planted en mass in the 50s and have just spread everywhere since then. They are tall and straight, whereas the authentic pines are often times crooked and ragged. Crazy. He drove us past the local Lutheran church and then back through a more modern neighborhood where people live when they decide not to live on the farms any more. He says there are more and more of those choosing to live away from farms each year, so the modern communities are pretty common nowadays.

When we returned, we ate lunch of savory whole wheat waffles with more jam, or cheese, or sour cream on top. They were absolutely delicious and a welcome difference from our stolen from breakfast sandwiches in Ireland. They were also right up my street because they had very little sugar in them. It was like eating really moist bread, and it was fantastic.

After lunch, we had a couple hours to unwind before we left for dinner. We drove a little while across the county side and ended up at Diana’s cousin’s father’s house (and yes, it is more confusing than this, I’m just making it simpler). It sits on a picturesque little mountain side, with his other son’s farm right next door. There were sheep, lambs, and goats to greet us as we drove in. I was reminded of home than I have this whole time abroad. Being back near a farm with animals makes me breath easier for once. Even though this is not my family in the slightest, I felt at home.

Dinner was first. We heard a sung Norwegian blessing that piqued my ethnomusicologist interest. That was an awesome look into a different way of doing things. The meal was a meat and vegetable soup that tasted just like my dad’s homemade ham soup—again, the feeling at home can back to me. We chatted a lot about our home, Diana’s family back in the States, and also about my life living in a rural area of Wisconsin. It turns out the father had traveled to the Wisconsin Dells with his wife, so they were both reminiscing about the time they spent there.

I told them about my horses and how we breed and sell and show them, much like they breed and keep the sheep on their farm. They breed the original sheep to Norway, called the Norwegian short tail. I own the original horse to America, called the American Saddlebred. Pretty neat. And in the moments when everyone was speaking Norwegian, I tried my best to learn as many words as possible. Or, at least, understand and pick up as much as I could.

After the first part of dinner, we went out to see the goats and the lambs. The brother of our host owns the farm and his wife showed us around and got us a bottle of milk to entice the lambs to be our friends. That was greatly appreciated. The little herd of five lambs had been abandoned by their mothers or simply left unattended, so the couple saved each one of them and made them pets. They each have names, even though the others do not. They were a little bit spoiled, but who doesn’t love a spoiled animal? We bottle fed them with fresh milk and the littlest one, called Panella (I think) started nibbling on my thumb like a bottle. One of the most adorable things to ever happen to me.

Next, we went to visit the goats and kids. The mama and two babies get their own little shed because the kids are so new. The little black and gray kid was taken out of the pen first, and she was a little nervous about being away from mama—shaking and wriggling about with a visibly beating heart. She also would do the slightest little bleats in desperation. I petted her a little and then was promptly handed the whole goat. I can roll with that. Like any good animal girl, I tried to clamp down on her squirming body and calm her down as much as I could immediately. Within seconds, she was just fine. I spoke to her and responded to her bleats and rocked her like a baby, because she is a baby. At one point, her head went down on my arm and she felt completely relaxed in my arms. It was a magical moment.

Reluctantly putting the kids back with their mother, we met some of the other goats, put the herd of pet sheep back in their heated house, and then went into the house for dessert. We had cut fruit for a fruit salad earlier, but they also had cookies, candy, delicious cake, a sort of flat trifle dish that was delicious, and coffee and tea. We watched some family videos of Diana as a baby, talked more about our school and lives back home, and even about what we want to do in the future. I tried to stay behind the scenes, but everyone was very sweet to me even though I am not related in any way. I can never express how thankful I am to the entire family for taking me in and giving me the greatest possible glimpse into Norway that I could possibly get. I am forever grateful.

And now, for the anthropological finish. As far as things that are different here than in the States or even in the rest of Europe… there are many small things that are difficult to describe. None of them are bad, they are just different. The biggest thing I noticed immediately was the “Scandinavian” architecture and interior design. Almost all the houses are made out of wood, and the kitchens and bathrooms are all sleek and white—straight out of an Ikea catalog. Perfect. Even the house itself is white and pristine. There is absolutely no clutter, but still tons of storage space. It’s really lovely. 

Culturally, schooling and jobs are run differently, as well as the government. We’ve talked a lot about those things, actually. Kids go to the local university rather than ones they choose. The cost of all three years of high education is half of what one year costs at home. That made me feel superb about myself. People are hesitant to accept private donations to use at a school or a company for fear of bribery, which actually is sometimes seen as a waste by Norwegian people themselves. Food is all fresh or home made and only what is being eaten in the next few days is in the fridge. Their fridge is small and looks almost empty—none of this overcrowded American fridge syndrome here. It is admirable.

So much of what I have seen and done exhibits how different something can be but still feel like home. I am so happy I got the chance to have this amazing adventure and meet so many lovely people along the way. They might not be my true family, but it could certainly feel that way. Tomorrow, we get to see Klieveland—the place where Diana’s name comes from. That’s pretty amazing. I need to rest up so I am ready to take it all in!

photo credit Diana Cleveland

No comments:

Post a Comment