Week Seven - Norge 08/07/2010
“It takes a village.” – African proverb or more recently a campaign slogan of Hillary.
This is true. There is no way to possibly express our gratitude for all of the loving care and support we are receiving out here on the edge. The Skype calls, emails and texts messages coming in from all of you serve to keep us grounded. Adele has been in contact with friends back home via video calls and even Vinny has managed to do a call or two and send a few postcards. All of the effort to get in touch means so much to us.
Many have asked how we manage to do all of this, putting our lives on pause so to speak, and heading out on this grand adventure. Now that we are in the thick of it all we can say with certainty that it takes all kinds of help from our people back home. Someone is opening our mail and helping with bills. Someone else is caring for Jessie our dog. Someone is watching over our home and helping out with our guests. The startups, both Vinnivooms and CallMeCuffs, are moving forward with the help of good friends. We have our legal team dealing with various issues that pop up from time to time in the modern world.
All of this is made possible by the friends and neighbors in our village and we thank each and every one of you countless times each day.
Day Forty-Three - July 31 Happy B-Day Vince!
At long last Vincent’s birthday is here. He wakes up with a big smile and announces, “TODAY is my birthday!” Followed shortly thereafter with, “I am in charge today, let’s open presents!” How great to be four years old with the world at your doorstep so full of anticipation and wonder. His first gifts are a box of Legos and a red wooden car, both received with an enthusiastic “THANK YOU!” He definitely has the birthday spirit.
Today is a sightseeing day. Our first stop is Arhus for a provisional shop and a quick sweep/clean of the camper. We open another gift and then move on to the northern most point of Denmark. Despite the rainy weather we are determined to go north to Sagen and checkout the meeting of two oceans.
For some reason Vince has been determined to climb a tall building on his birthday. We have been discussing the birthday for days and the tall building always makes its way into the conversation. No idea why. The fates are looking out for us when we stumble upon the Sagan lighthouse with 210 steps of climbing up a narrow circular staircase. Vinny is so excited he might explode!
I keep him busy climbing on the rock jetty and tossing rocks into the ocean while Adele (and Teri) set up his party in the camper. We have balloons, Spiderman plates and napkins, a cake (sort of, maybe more of a big brownie) candles and the rest of his gifts (a remote control car, a bug that vibrates, a shirt and of course more Legos). It’s perfect.
Post party we set out to climb the lighthouse. It is cold, raining and blowing very hard by the time we arrive at the top. Getting out the door up top is a challenge. The view however is well worth the effort.
Looking out on the spit of land below you begin to understand how vulnerable life here really is. There are a series of grass-covered sand dunes protecting the inlands and several coves and inlets along the coast. Beyond that it is completely flat save for a few buildings here and there. You get the sense that with one big storm it will all wash out to sea.
Standing with the cold rain blowing hard across your face you begin to understand why the Danes are such a serious crowd. Life in this neck of the woods is not easy. It is cold and brisk and overcast. It is not dark but instead just this dull grey that covers everything. The weather here, more so than other places, seems to reflect the people. I cannot imagine the place in the winter.
We descend the spiral steps and head back to the campsite for some playtime in the sand dunes and a walk on the beach. All the time in the cold, wind and rain.
Day Forty-four – August 1
We wake up to clearing skies and decide to head off to Hirtshals and try to go stand by on a ferry over to Norway. The lighthouse proved to be enough of Sagen for us though next time through we may opt for the long walk out to the tip where the sand stops and ocean begins.
I love ferries. Everything about them is thrilling to me: the smell of the ocean, the sounds of the gulls, the anticipation of a new destination, watching the horizon line for the inbound boats to break through, waiting with like minded travelers from all over the place, the goings and comings, everything, all of it.
The Color Line reservation is for tomorrow morning due to pricing issues. A trip today would have been 4x the price had we decided not to go stand by. The good news is that we don’t have to pay anymore to go stand by and the lady at the booth says things are looking good for the 3:30p departure. It’s noon when we get in line number 30 with the other stragglers.
There was some kind of junior football tournament going on in Hirtshals so the place is jammed with buses of teenagers standing in circles kicking soccer balls to each other. It’s fun to watch them bounce the ball back and forth, the skill level is so high for such young kids. We pass the time by touring the ferry terminal, looking at the harbor and sizing up the other ferryboats.
One of the issues with going stand by is that you are the last ones to board. This means seats are scarce. Actually seats are impossible. The best we can do is floor space in the corner of the bar. I have been in worse mind you. There are 1,900 people on board with life preserves for 2,000 so space is pretty much maxed out.
Technology these days is a wonder. Here we are doing 21 knots across the North Sea and we have wireless with a strong enough signal to Skype the States. It is so cool it’s almost hard to fathom. We listen to b-day wishes left for Vince, call the parents and Adele has a videoconference with friends.
When I can pull her away from the technology, Adele and I have a great father- daughter time sitting outside on the back deck, protected from the wind and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. She is a great kid with a funny sense of humor and a genuine interest in just about everything. Like how fast is a knot? When/why do you stop seeing land on one side? Are there seals in the water? How long until you freeze to death in this ocean? What do cleats do and what happens if you forget to untie?
After making up answers to most of the questions, we arrive in Norway and are greeted at customs. “Yorba, youba, wodka, igrets?” “What?” “Wodoka, iiigretts?” “Oh, no, no vodka and we don’t smoke, only two small children, four and eight.” A big smile, “Inde camping? Hah! Hah! You should have oloto wodka and igrets! Ha! Ha! Ha!” With a wink and a nod we are in, I like Norway already.
Driving north on A9 we are confronted with a sudden change in topography that triggers and immediate change in perspective and orientation. There are rocks everywhere, most of them covered in lichen and moss. And the greens are deep and dark here, in fact it is all one big spectrum on greens and browns and earth tones. The mountains and lakes and weather are more akin to Mammoth or Portland or Canada or maybe all three rolled into one. I just want to get out of the car to be outside, or really inside, all of it.
We follow “moose crossing” signs down a small narrow road and end up at a campsite seemingly in the middle of nowhere. When I ask the man at the front desk if they have Internet he just smiles and says, “Not yet” I am still not sure if he was making some kind of Norwegian joke to himself or if he was serious. When I ask for a spot number he smiles again, “Anywhere is fine just keep some distance to the others.” I really like Norway.
Vince crashes at 6p and sleeps straight through to the morning. The rest of us end our day in a grassy, wooded knoll on the side of a lake listening to a gentle breeze and a light rain. Darkness doesn’t really fall up here but it gets dull around 10:30p or so. It’s good to be back in the woods.
Day Forty-five – August 2
We are up early to play at the beach on the lake. The water is crystal clear and almost warm. When I get there Vince is rolling in the sand naked as can be and Adele is knee deep in the lake looking for crystals. How great to be a kid.
This is a driving day. We need to cover some ground to get to the Fjords so we head north up into the lower third of Norway. A9 is much narrower than I expected so the going is slow. No way to cover great distances in a day here. The pace forces you to slow down.
We have lunch in a tourist info place in Husflid with a nice kids playground and free Wi-Fi! Doesn’t get much better. Our lunches these days are a loaf of fresh bread, some kind of local cheese, meat of some kind and maybe a salad. It is more like grazing verses an actual meal, which suits us fine.
A9 winds into E134 that winds into A7. The mountains get bigger and broader, the rivers stronger and faster. By days end we are in another campsite in the middle of nowhere surrounded by 1,000 foot walls of granite camped at the edge of a small stream.
It’s cold, very cold and so light that at 11p that I can still read sitting outside the camper.
Key thought while driving today: I have no intention of working summers ever again. In fact, I have every intention of traveling with the family on extended summer trips while the kids are in school with summer breaks. The summer rental market is solid in our neck of the woods so we can easily off set the cost of travel. Therefore, going forward, any “work” must comply with this new schedule.
Day Forty-Six August 3
When you wake up in a valley surrounded by sheer walls of rock the mind does wander far and wide. It is almost as though your thoughts want to slip away to bounce off the walls and echo back and forth colliding with each other just to see what happens.
I find myself on a narrow single lane dirt road following the river upstream. Decades of fly fishing develop instinct and my eyes dart from rock to stream searching for the familiar ripples of trout raising to a hatch. This river is cold and clear falling powerfully over rocks and moving fast through shallows. I wish I had my 9ft Orvis 6wt.
It’s the sound of the river that triggers the thoughts. It is the sound that never stops, yet is always changing. It gurgles and splashes into a cadence that beats under everything else. Winds, rain, sun and snow all come and go but the river always runs.
On the other side of the road is a forest. It is dark and dense. Beyond three of four trees is a wall of tree trunks and branches and leaves. The colors fade from green to browns to black the deeper you probe. It makes you a bit nervous if you let.
Vince is mumbling that the remote “very, very needs new batteries” and that the car “wants to drive in the river very badly”. He is so young, small and vulnerable walking along our little road more of less oblivious to the world around him. I told you the thoughts dance off the granite walls here and reverberate endlessly. What a morning.
We eventually pack up and start to drive again. This is another driving day only this time we must go up and over the top of Norway only to fall back down to the Fjords where we can drive the waterline and cut through the mountains. Above timber you start to get a sense of just how far off the grid we really are.
No one lives up here save for a few sheep and a goat or two. We do pass an occasional ski town or a hunting lodge but for the most part it’s deserted. Somehow, I have no idea when/why/how, they managed to build tunnels to make the crossing a bit easier. And these tunnels are exceptional.
If your point of reference is the Midtown or Eisenhower tunnel then think of these as Uber-tunnels. These own those. The longest one today was 7,150 meters, that’s a lot of feet. They are dark and cold with no lights and barely two lanes wide. They have none of the fancy tile to cover the rough cuts left by the blasting. They leave the rock as is, scarred and exposed.
I bet we pass through twenty of them by days end. It all sounds fun until a semi comes at you with high beams on doing 100k. I still wake up flinching now and then. I keep dreaming that the clearance signs keep going down, the length keeps going up, the road narrows and the trucks come faster and faster with each passing one.
We break for groceries and gas before arriving in Eidfjord. This is another town hanging on the edge of both mountains and water. Our site is in a field next to a playground with a trampoline so all is fine in our world.
We decided today while driving that we are Norway people. It has everything we are looking for in a country. In a few years, maybe in 2016, when the kids can handle a pack for an extended hike, we will return to climb and fish the high country. Hopefully you will come along for the ride.
Day Forty-Seven August 4
Typical breakfast conversation:
Vince: “Please I have some coco beans?”
Adele: “Puffs, coco puffs.”
Vince: “Pops? Coco pops? It’s pops Adele”
Adele: “Puffs Vinny! This is SO frustrating!”
We wake up to a cold, wet morning. Today is a big day of sight seeing after several days of transport. It is nice to have a destination. First up is the Eidfjord Nature Center.
If you have ever been to the Jackson Hole Visitors Center you know how great a visitors center can be. This one almost tops that. It starts with a movie taken such that you feel you are flying in a helicopter over the Fjords and glaciers. It is so real we all feel a little woozy and lean to one side now and again for balance. One of the best Visitor Center flicks to date. Then you spill out into three floors of interactive displays complete with real ice from a glacier, live trout and samples of every conceivable rock and flower. The day just started and it is already worth the crazy drive to get here.
Next stop is a place named Kjeasen. You may have seen it in guidebooks or in ads tempting you to visit Norway. It’s a farm, up on top of a mountain, looking down on the town of Eidfjord. The trick is you drive up this absolutely insane mountain road that is open for uphill traffic for one half hour and then for downhill traffic the next. This way no one meets head one during the drive because passing each other would be impossible. Oh, and 2.5k of the 4k drive in through a tunnel in total darkness except for your headlights with no margin on either side for error. It may be the best adventure we have attempted yet.
Outside the farmhouse we meet a nice Norway couple, the guy is seventy-four years young and was born just 10k away. They come back all the time for the views. They have a 94 year-old Aunt living in San Rafael back home who apparently is still looking for a husband having lost the last three. Characters one and all.
Only one of the sisters still lives on the farm. We get the full story that the other sister recently passed away leaving the last one on the mountain with a herd of sheep. Apparently she stays here through the winters as well though I find it hard to believe it is safe enough for any living thing. To think that she simply lives here, no real worries about anything else outside of this little farm, is almost mind numbing. I would call it a life lesson but it seems closer to insanity.
After a nail biting decent to the waterline and then a quick stop in Voss (looking for the water bottling plant which we can not find) we end up in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway. The first campsite appears to be part of a slagheap so we pass. The second one is impossible to find and GPS takes us 30k off track due to a spelling error (way too many letters in these street names). On the third attempt we actually need to be rescued, by a really nice Norwegian guy, on the narrowest city block I have ever been on and then be escorted back to a main road suitable for HOWs.
Finally, two hours after we arrive in the city, with two starving children and limited resources, we find a beautiful campsite tucked into a small harbor just outside of the city. Unfortunately, all they have left is a spot in the parking lot but here beggars can’t be choosy.
Day Forty-Eight August 5th
Up to breakfast in the parking lot. Turns out we are not the only ones in the overflow area so at least we have some comrades in arms. Mostly Germans and Danes with a Fin or two thrown in for good measure.
Bergen is beautiful. The city is a collage of painted clapboard houses perched on the edge of a cliff and falling into the sea. It looks like a mix of Santorini or the Cinque a Terra meets Puget Sound, with narrow little streets all ending at a bustling seaport. They sell whale on a stick here. I cannot identify most the other things. Some have fins, others legs. They have pools filled with lobsters and tables with crushed ice layered in salmon.
After a quick lunch and a stop at the climbing store for warm clothes we buy tickets and climb the funicular to get a view from the top. It does not disappoint. The thing climbs an eighteen-degree pitch to get there!
They have trolls here in Norway and at the top of this mountain they appear to be everywhere: big ones, small ones, ones hiding in the woods, some standing out in the open. The kids wander around wide-eyed and ever alert. So do the parents.
Heading down in the funicular:
Dad: “Adele, what book did you get?”
Adele: “the Ollowbit”
Dad: “Which one?”
Adele: “The Ollowbit, the one from that movie, Lord of the Rings.”
Dad: “I read the Hobbit when I was kid.”
Adele: “Like before 1989?”
At the end of a long drive back to the fjords we are back in the middle of nowhere. Out campsite is incredible. We are perched on a small cliff overlooking an inlet. The cold weather is back as well as the rain so we hunker down for stormy night. We do laundry and catch up on the journals late into the evening. At 11p when I go up to get the last load of wash it is still light. The fishermen, back with the evening catch are out cleaning their fish and telling tales in German, French and Norwegian about the big ones that got away.
Day Forty-Nine – August 6th
It poured rain last night. It was so loud in the camper it was actually hard to sleep. When we roll over at 8a or so it is still coming down though not as fierce as earlier in the storm. I venture out for a breath of fresh air.
“Fuuuuoooosssss!” It sounds like blowing air. “Fuuuuooooooosssss!” Now water is spouting up in various places. The water breaks here then there. Something is breathing. Dolphins. So close we can actually hear them breathing. It’s an entire pod moving slowly along the shoreline, fins breaking the surface. Maybe Dolphin, then again are we sure Nessie is Scottish?
Suddenly the sun breaks through and we are at the end of a rainbow. It appears for a minute, no more, then vanishes as fast as it arrives. What a morning!
We lounge around not in any real hurry to move on. Today we start the drive back across Norway towards Oslo. We take three ferries, all of them in rainstorms. Go through our longest tunnel yet at 7,248 meters. See countless towns and villages, some mere clusters of houses. Pass Stave churches with dragons perched high on the steeples protecting them from danger. This is Norway.
Much like the terrain and weather, I have come to suspect that the real Norway is somewhere between what we see on the surface and what lies beneath. The nooks and crannies of the fjords seem hold on to thoughts, memories and expectations forever. You can’t shake them loose here as they seem to stay, like the rock and rain, for a very, very long time. Everything is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, warm sunshine and cold rains. It all comes at you in the dynamic contrast of two opposing points of view and all of it is laid bare and exposed by nature.
At the end of the day, we are once again camped by a the river with water that keeps on flowing…