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Norway in a Nutshell


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We gathered all the recommendations we could find and made the decision to traverse east coast to west coast (Oslo to Bergen) via the well-traveled paths of 'Norway in a Nutshell'. Some folks said if you're going to do anything in Norway - this is it. That might be a bit extreme, but we haven't hopped the Arctic Circle yet, so I'll get back to you on that one. We took a combination of trains, boats, and buses for the better portion of the day that moved us almost 500km across the country and allowed us to see some incredible landscape. The boat ride through the enormous fjords was simply amazing and put us right where we belong. Small - and looking up. So much around us. So much to see. We were able to stop in a couple of really cool little towns, including one that had Norwegian Meatballs! The kids didn't see them and ended up ordering sausages, which were actually hotdogs that Jaden ended up calling 'false hope sausages'. J was so cranky that I'm wondering if she may have banned hotdogs for a period of time. We'll have to see how the BBQ situation unfolds this summer. We'll find more Norwegian Meatballs - had to run for our boat - we nearly missed it!

We rolled into Bergen late and weren't sure if we might catch any St. Patty's Day action or if we'd find a sleepy city. After 'Chasing Dreams', which included marking Dublin off our bucket list for St. Patty's Day with the kids (http://gearhardsgo3.travellerspoint.com) - we see most cities don't go to THAT extreme, but you never know. As soon as we stepped into our room, we decided we weren't giving up on the view of the waterfront and the downtown shops and restaurants! We had two big front row seats that we could occupy in pajamas - while accessing our heat and beds. Sold! Bergen partied late into the night, disco lights included at the bar across the water from us. I stayed up watching the city move as people worked their way in and out of the fabulous street patios covered in sheepskins, surrounded in torches, and overflowing with music. Scål, Bergen!

Posted by akgearhard 06:42 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Journey in Bergen


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I'll keep this simple. We love this city.

We rolled out of bed with sleepy eyes (well, one of mine might have gotten excited because we are staying in a hotel instead of a house, which has breakfast, and I got to wear my flip flips to the 2nd floor for breakfast! It's the small things, really). The buffet included everything imaginable for all three meals of the day - from eggs and bacon to a couple types of smoked salmon. Drinks ranged from smoothies to cappuccinos. You've never seen so many spreads, meats, cheeses, and breads in your life. Side note: the mackerel is gross and will also make anything else on our around the 'mackerel zone' on your plate disgusting too. I would have avoided it altogether, but the kids have to get pushed outside their comfort zone, so, ummm, I was working on helping them with that. Just use your napkin to wipe it off! Blah.

Much to our surprise, the sunshine joined us again today! The harbor water was sparkling and the windows on the shops and restaurants surrounding it were inviting us with their warm reflection. We lingered around the city, looked at "historically incorrect" Viking hats on display in souvenir shops (good thing we have Jaden on board). We ran into multiple couples that we'd travelled over with, saying 'God morgen' to our newfound friends in this small town big city. Simply put, the people here are more than friendly. I fumbled my way through ordering coffees and cocoa from a gal that spoke no English at all and did her best to answer to my minimal norsk and sign language combo (holding up 3 fingers and saying 'tre' for cappuccinos). She didn't catch the '3' and when I asked her to make the third and tried to pay for a third time, she knocked herself on the head (as if to say 'silly!'), showed me the three fingers I'd been showing her and then smacked my hand and paid for my coffee with a smile. Sweet.

We stopped to listen to a young street performer sing and play his guitar on our way home and about that same time, he was engulfed by a large group of twenty something kids that joined in with the singing and purchased a bundle of beer from the underground bar nearby to make a nice hearty audience. When I could hear them rocking Jason Mraz's 'I'm Yours' from our hotel room window, I grabbed my coat, and Luke, and told him it was time to go find a beer that way. The rain was falling lightly and the moment was too good to miss. We snagged a couple beers from the underground bar - and a six pack for the young padowans - and cuddled in tightly under the large umbrella on the patio (with a heater!) to sing with a crazy group of German seaman and a Mexican artist that has been traveling the world. We ended the night on a good note, one might say... sopping wet, as the big flakes started to fall, and his fabulous voice singing some of my favorite words: "Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight train going anywhere...".

Posted by akgearhard 06:45 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Norwegian Cowgirl (Mountain Girl)


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A car and a couple of ferries yesterday allowed us to soak up the trip down to Stavanger at our own pace. The coast was unbelievably touchable in its cloak of moss and the islands were an overwhelming dot-to-dot, with so many parts and pieces that assigning numbers would have been nearly impossible. We walked the city front, played on a playground that looked something like a boat graveyard covered in graffiti, and went to bed early in preparation for our travels and hike today.

Preikestolen Rock. Pulpit Rock. Let's save some time on my description of 'death by height' and I'll just suggest you Google it and then open a second search window and Google an answer for what happens if you stand on a cliff in 400 mph winds. On to the story.

So, a very nice Norwegian mountain ranger looked us up, down, and sideways, before letting us up to the trailhead and advised us that in addition to our large backpack of gear that Luke was carrying - we also take crampons, as there is still quite a bit of snow and ice on the 4 km hike up the mountain. I decided crampons should be mandatory at all times in Colorado after tromping around in them on the glacier, so I put mine on right away, despite the fact that we were still in rocks and mud. Luke and the kids weren't so convinced. Jaden decided that it sounded as though I was wearing spurs as I clicked along the trail. You might think I was a Norwegian Cowgirl, headed for the saloon, but let's be honest, I've never been into the belt buckle thing. I can't call myself a cowgirl, but I sure wasn't taking my crampons off and dying, so I'm going with Norwegian Mountain Girl.

When we got to the top, Luke and the kids headed out to the edge and I think I closed my eyes and held my breath and took as many pictures as I possibly could while hoping they wouldn't blow away. When it was my turn for a picture, I went into Haunted House mode where I start swearing uncontrollably, questioning my ability to make adult decisions, and then Luke has to hold my hand and walk me in / to / through whatever it is that I've gotten myself into. It's like a semi-advanced 3 year old tantrum. And I say "semi-advanced" only because I'm sure there are toddlers that can out swear me in those moments. I actually ended up laying on the end of the rock at one point in time for my picture and finally crawled away from the edge (i.e. DEATH). As I was starting my way back down the trail, I looked back and Luke was walking toward the edge (gasp!), laying down (double gasp!), and crawling out - big backpack still on - 400 mph winds blowing... Did you get the results of that Google search by the way?! Do you know what happens?! I look again and he's looking over the edge giving me a thumbs up, you know, like a Kodak moment! I almost threw up. I grabbed my camera and took a picture and then realized that it was a terrible picture because you couldn't really see how FAR down he was getting ready to fall, so I needed to change lenses and run down the trail a bit more so instead of yelling to get off the edge, I told him to wait - in the wind - longer. Then I wanted to cry. I ran down the trail with my camera lens between my legs and was worried I was going to pee on it because I was so upset. I got far enough out that I could really see his path to death (or take a great photo) and he laid there and smiled. I waved him away from the edge and had to turn away and pray that he made it. I was sure he was going forward and I didn't want to see it. I had only encouraged everything up to the very last minute but I was NOT going to watch it. Scary. Scary. Scary. Without wind, I might have been in reasonable condition, but I couldn't get away from those edges fast enough!

We booked a night at the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge which gave us a gorgeous view of the lake and surrounding mountains, a unique room with heated floors and a loft, and a delicious menu of homemade foods - including Norwegian meatballs. A couple of other hikers came in for dinner around the same time that we did, but we were fortunate enough to be the only people in the lodge this evening. It's pretty wild. They have several large family rooms with fireplaces, blankets, candles, games, and views of the water. We spent 4 hours in the family room downstairs watching the sunset and drinking cappuccinos and cocoas. It was so peaceful. We went upstairs to the family room on our floor and finished off a late night with snacks (Bamse Mums!), laughter, and unending UNO. I'm tucked in bed now, writing, and I can hear the snow falling outside our open window. It has finally caught up to us! We'll head out early from our quiet mountain home to spend the night in a small tent (lavvo!) in the middle of nowhere above the Arctic Circle. Let our journey to the north continue. Come on, Polar Bears!

Posted by akgearhard 06:51 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

"Hey, That's GREEN!"


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I don't think we're quite to the top of the globe (you know, the part that starts to flatten out that I used as a starting point for my Barbie's slide at my Granny & Papa's house when I was little) - but we are darn close to it! We had to figure out how to get up here, and this - as well as the next few steps - took some considerable planning, as it's getting a bit more remote, which is what we've wanted! Train is typically the preferred mode of transportation for all of us. We love being able to settle in, see the scenery, eat, drink, write, listen to music, and just relax. But, it was a 20+ hour train ride and we are hustling to tonight's stop, so we've booked a night train in Sweden and entrusted a plane to get us north. As we were flying into Tromsø, the pilot assured us that if we thought he was was a bit too close to the very large mountains (that the plane wings were scraping across), we shouldn't worry. That is a "perfectly normal feeling" up here where we are weaving in and out of the towering fjords like fighter pilots in a Star Wars movie. (Or Luke Skywalkers and Princess Leias). Apologies in advance to my husband, son, and brother who will have my head when they read this. (No, I don't really know if they are called "fighter pilots" or not. I know that I should have this knowledge after 800 times of watching these movies, but they should have thought to make them in the right order. You don't produce 3 bedroom-theming-magnitude-movies and then 30 years later let people know that you're going to tell them how the story REALLLLLY started. Secrets don't make friends. Too late. Too confusing). In my world, people who fly planes are called 'pilots' and when they do it with anger they are 'fighters'. I can already hear the boys, so I'll clarify that it's anger OR vengeance! (Angry / Vengenance) + (Plane flyers) = Fighter Pilots.

Now to the ground and my point...
In our trip planning, we came across a photo of a single tent resting quietly in a snowy valley up against a backdrop of deep mountains and all topped with the startling green aurora borealis. The question wasn't how to make this reservation, it was simply WHEN to make it for. In northern Norway, we found one of these tents available via a tour, which we weren't interested in - Luke is our wilderness guide! We found another offered by a young "Viking family" that was in the general direction that we wanted to head, which meant we needed fighter pilots to get us to the deep mountains by the water. The young Viking, Tomas, was waiting for us and took us by the local market when we arrived just before 8 pm., so that we could pick up our food for dinner and breakfast. My understanding was that we had a heated tented, stocked with cooking supplies, sleeping bags and yep, reindeer skins!! (Note to all: if your thinking is similar to mine in any way and the idea of 'Nordic Nirvana' is real to you - stop reading. If sleeping above the Arctic Circle in a tent during winter on reindeer skins sounds like something out of a sexy Beverly Clearly fantasy book (Sorry, I stopped reading for pleasure at Ramona B. Quimby: Age 8. Academics always overruled leisure!) - don't read more. If this is your mind, like mine, skip this blog. I'm not a dream crusher).

Tomas drove toward the mountains - just enough to allow the lights of the town to fade. He hopped out of the van and quickly pulled out his sled and started strapping our backpacks in. We didn't yet have hats, gloves, or even an extra layer on for the 20+ minute hike into the snow, but he had already started heading out into the pitch black and so we were going too! Oh no! I was missing a survival tool! My near death experience off the cliffs and across the high tide river, at night, in Hawaii, on our 16 mile spontaneous hike (in flip flops) is why I swore I'd NEVER leave home without the head lamp that is in my backpack hanging in the garage at home. I realllllly could have used it as we trekked through the snow. Instead, I tried to borrow beams from from cross country skiers as they zoomed by periodically. As Luke and Tomas chatted along about wilderenessy things, I grabbed J and pointed at a small whimsy cloud teasing the mountain top... "Hey! That's GREEN!" Barely, but it sure was! The northern lights! Finally! As we continued our hike in, other forms of green mist danced lightly across the sky - staying long enough for us to catch a glimpse but briefly enough to keep us walking. The lower clouds at the base of the mountains that had been promising snow had opened for just a few moments to give us an enticing welcome with stars and the northern lights and they were now rising and closing to cover the sky.

Tomas opened up the tent and gave Luke a Winter Camping tutorial. He was like a Norwegian version of Luke, with both gentlemen (and Jaden) attending to every detail of the tent, fire, wilderness, weather, trash disposal, and even predators. Such a match. They started a fire in our little stove, he wished us well, and in we went!

SNOW! Hmmm. A snow floor. I like surprises! And a snow bed! Literally. Wow, good thing I like the cold too. The floor was carved out to hold our fireplace and a step up was made for our sleeping area, which was covered by a layer of tarp and then reindeer skins! Nothing like a romantic night by the fire on the reindeer skins. PS: the fireplace has to be completely out when you head to bed so you don't suffocate. I tried to convince Luke that dying in my sleep from suffocation while warm (and happy) on my reindeer skins in north Norway is far better than dying from hypothermia (and tears of sadness) because I despise the cold. Lieutenant Gearhard wouldn't have it. We made a delightful dinner, tucked our breakfast in the snow bank by our front door (inside the tent!), put out the fire, and crawled in our sleeping bags to create a pile of Gearhards.

It was a little funny at first to turn on the headlamps (that Tomas provided) as we were trying to get situated in our sleeping bags and find that the reindeer skins were shedding. It tickled. It was sightly annoying. At first. I'm twitching as I write - just thinking about it. In preparation for the cold, I think I slept in every item of clothing I own PLUS I snuck this amazing little sleeping bag into my backpack that Luke's parents gave me for emergency cold situations and I shoved that in my sleeping bag and wrapped up Qdoba burrito style in that too. The sleeping bags that we were given were about 6" wide and a foot thick, so once you got yourself wedged in - there was NO moving. Pause with me and all my layers here as I'm stuck down in my sleeping bag. As for Luke, he sleeps warm, so he was fine as he sleeps at home, but he did decide he'd better wear socks (rough life). Now imagine him wedged in his 6" wide bag. Unpause me frozen still in my bag and here comes the problem. REINDEER FUR!! Luke yelled first. He had it in his mouth, but couldn't get his arms up to his mouth to get out of his bag. He was wedged in and squealed as he fumbled for the zipper to uncage himself! Hilarious!! That is, until I'm laughing and realize I can't move either. I'm crazy claustrophobic and lost it and climbed out of everything as fast as a kid coming up the stairs from a dark basement - which made me a mega-static magnet for more fur and left me out in the open, non-heated tent! Train wreck - with fur flying! The kids had a bit more flexibility in their bags and could laugh - while periodically inhaling single thick pieces of fur and spitting - from the comfort of their own bag.

Jaden and I awoke early, both tapped politely on the shoulder by the King of Cold and given a piece of reindeer fur to suck on by Satan himself. Jaden made us a fire so we could thaw, clear our teeth, and sleep a little longer with the warm and peacefully resting Luke and Justice. When he awoke, Luke did describe his sleep as "laying on six Keigans" (100 lb German Shepherd that awaits us at home). Well-spoken!

We hiked out with smiles on our faces and reindeer fur strands blowing off us in the wind like leaves in the morning autumn sunshine. That's a true Nordic Nirvana night if I've ever had one!

Posted by akgearhard 09:00 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

A Fishing Village (Literally)


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Just in case you might be interested in a trick we rely heavily upon (or for those who wonder how some of these places manage to find their way to our map) - give this a try: (1) Google the top 10 must-see places in the country you are going to visit, (2) Select one or two surreal pictures from the top 10 list and gently tell yourself that isn't what you'll see (Only Photoshop, Disney, and Jesus are the makers of magic like that and Jesus does His in real life - not photos!) (3) Cross reference your favorite photos with Trip Advisor to get honest details and insight. Always take it with a grain of salt and keep your travel mission in mind. For example, a salt mining town of 900 people that sits on a lake in Austria may be perceived poorly due to its lack of resources for those that prefer 5 star hotels and dinner reservations. However, rubbing elbows with the locals is a distinct part of our travel mission. We lived happily above Grandma Maria's house, where she spoke to the kids each day (German only!) and gave them their allowance of 5 euros for gelato. (4) Once you've made the decision on where you want to go - PUT. IT. ON. YOUR. MAP. - and let the trip take shape around a gem or two like this. Listen, this location made it to the top of your list (and others' lists) for a reason. Heads up, seven up - these places can be tricky to get to or may come with one of those stories where the "journey is part of the adventure". That's why it's on this list! Start by making the commitment to go, knowing that you'll figure out how to physically get there as the planning continues. Illogical, but so good for the soul. If you'd like proof, please Google 'Mürren, Switzerland', a Swiss mountain village of 450+ people that is nestled in the Alps. I fell in love with the site of it (photoshop and all), couldn't stop talking about the descriptions I'd found, and it was an immediate yes as soon as Luke saw it too... The fact that it was only accessible via a series of trains and cable cars was a detail we figured out... later. It definitely added another level of excitement and uniqueness to our James Bond location!

Such thought processing was used for Norway and when I came across the fishing village of Reine, we stopped in our tracks. There were little red fishing cottages, many on stilts, placed thoughtfully around the rough edges of the Norwegian Sea. If the cottages themselves weren't enough to put this on your map, the view from their windows (or anywhere around here) should be the qualifier! In fact, we rented a car so we could enjoy the 8 hour drive / ride in and out of the amazing series of intricate passes, tunnels, and long brontosaurus-looking bridges that connect the islands and weave through the fjords. The towering mountains in Reine surround the village on all sides and drop directly into the water, like thirsty giants kneeling in the waves on a hot day.

We drove about halfway and stopped for the night in small hotel on the coast where we were once again the only guests. One of the perks of traveling in the mud season! When I came inside to check in, a little gal at the front desk seemed horrified to see me and grabbed her phone to make a call for assistance. She was working as diligently on her English as I am on my Norwegian and we both laughed (nervously) and leaned on some norsk to bridge the communication gap. I think I was hoping she had our reservation as badly as she was hoping they had a room prepared. Remember the Suite Life of Zach and Cody on the Disney Channel? Well, the owner showed up quickly and got us checked right in. There were several random children that popped up and down from the basement in their pajamas, which confirmed the idea that they all live the life of luxury and run the halls of the hotel at night in their underwear with double fists of unlimited coffee and tea! How about that life?

We ventured on into Reine, talking excitedly about our upcoming peaceful five night stay, as I hung my head out the window and took pictures like a happy puppy in a car. The smell of fish hit me straight in the head as if Luke had driven into a street sign. I know I lost the picture that I was working on and I think I threw up in my mouth just a little bit. I shook my head at the mischievous fishing village ("Hee, hee, oh silly fishing village. You can't get me. I can handle a little fish smell! My mom made me eat tuna when I was little and now I like it - so take that! Your scent just adds to my Nordic Nirvana experience! Besides, I'm Norwegian Mountain Girl. Ja! Come on, little fishes, bring it!"). I quickly rolled my window up to fix the problem, but it didn't go away. Everyone was searching for fresh air like the 2-year-old 'Minnow' class in swim lessons learning how to bob, but there wasn't any to be found. Luke suggested that I had likely locked the fish stench in the car and thought I might try rolling my window down again to let some fresh air in. Sure. Good idea. You know what I let in?!

It was a cold, hard rush of fish vapor that took every oxygen cell in our American bodies by the liner (that's like grabbing them by the ear!!), booted them out, and replaced them proudly with their Viking Norwegian selves. Who's laughing now, Cowgirl?! It was the thick kind of smell that is illustrated in Tom & Jerry cartoons with wavy lines (and skulls and bones!) to show how strong the stench is! We had driven into our picturesque fishing village only to realize that it is LITERALLY a fishing village - in full swing - and the one that, 'by the grace of cod' paved the road to riches for Norway many years ago. It may be beautiful, but they aren't messing around here. There were wooden drying racks everywhere. Where Coloradoans might plant a tree, Norwegians placed a wooden drying rack (or 3). Dangling from them were huge cod heads, tied together in pairs, eyes staring blankly at the sky as it changed its mood every few minutes. Other racks contained full bodies, free from their insides and dangling by their flippers. We've learned that Lofoten's cod spends 3 months (February to April) in the Arctic sun and wind for a brilliant drying session and then is shipped out to be shared across Europe, with most of the top-grade cod going to Italy (traditional Friday fish meal!), Portugal, and Spain. The empty cod heads have no idea they are headed to Nigeria.

As my nose became numb to the smell of fish, (Norway - 1, akg - 0), we pulled into our red fishing cottage and I couldn't help but smile. This small, two-bedroom cottage had bunk beds in each room, a living room / kitchen area with a great view of the water and mountains, a heated bathroom floor, and a loft that covered 1/2 the cottage that would belong to Luke and I. I think I can easily call this place home for the next five days. Besides, I can't smell anything anyway.

Posted by akgearhard 15:29 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

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