Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 18 to 20: Christmas in Mundheim

Our return to Mundheim consisted pretty much of one thing: playing in snow.

There was close to a metre of the stuff, which made for some fabulous sledding. Of course, the problem was that without a good ski lift... or at least a rope tow... it was one heck of a climb back up the hills. Very steep.


By the time we had a decent run going... We were so exhausted we had to come back the next day to actually try it.


In Norway, the celebration for Christmas is all on Christmas Eve.

But before the presents, there was some serious work to be done. The morning of Christmas Eve my Great Uncle Hans came down to the house. He wanted me to come up with him, to pay our respects and clean off the grave of my great-grandparents. The two of us walked up the road to the old graveyard together. He had to show me the way to the grave, since it had been many years since I had been there, and of course it was all covered in snow.

It was very moving. The two of us standing there in the snow together. I shovelled off the grave itself, making it clear enough that we could lay a candle and a wreath. We both paid our respects, said our thanks to these people without whom we wouldn't exist. It was interesting for me to watch my Great Uncle, see this wonderful man paying respects to those that have been gone for so long.  He doesn't speak English... but we didn't really need to speak. It was a good moment, one that I will cherish.

Hans paying his respects to his parents on Christmas Eve

With the serious part done, then came the celebrations. It's tradition to go up to Tante (Aunt) Lisen's for rice pudding on Christmas Eve afternoon. She lives in the upper part of the house we stay in in Mundheim. In the rice pudding, there's an almond. If you get the almond, you win a prize. Svein has had this honour for many years running now, and he's quite proud of his track record. However, unfortunately for Svein, this year Beth had the honour of the lucky almond. Or so we thought... turns out, Lisen had put in TWO almonds this year since there were so many of us. Well, still no dice for Svein--Malene had the second almond. Malene won some chocolate, and Beth won a scratch and win ticket. Too bad for us, she didn't win the million kroner (~$200,000) prize.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, family members stopped by to drop off all their gifts. The pile around the Christmas tree grew bigger and bigger.

Then it was time for dinner. Ingebjørg and Svein laid the feast out on the table. Pinnekjøtt (lamb ribs) is the main traditional dish, but over the last ten years, kalkun (turkey) has been gaining ground. So much good food... and of course dessert. Yum!

Christmas Eve Dinner

Finally came the part the kids are always waiting for: the presents. Malene had the honour of playing Julenissen (Santa Claus) and handed them all out. Then one by one they were all opened. Of course, even though we had said we didn't want anything, there was still a small pile of presents for the two of us as well.

Overall, it was a great day. A lot of fun and great time with the family.
Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 15 to 17: Rosendal

The weekend came... and though we really had no concept of weekends at all, we thought it would be a fine day to go to Rosendal.

We woke up Friday morning and there was snow. Lots and lots of snow. It wasn't there when we went to sleep... but there it was when we awoke.

No problem. This isn't Vancouver. The world doesn't shut down with an inch of snow!

We were off.

Ingebjørg dropped us off at the ferry in Gjermundshamn and we were on our way across the Hardangerfjord to Rosendal. It's a 45 minute ride when it stops at the island of Varaldsøy on the way, which ours did. (It's 25 minutes without Varaldsøy.) Across we went, on to Løfallstrand, the gateway to Rosendal.

Ingebjørg's sister Gunvor and her family live in Rosendal. Her husband Rolf picked us up at the ferry. They have three children: Øystein, Håvard and Ola. Every day for the last three months before we left on our trip, Øystein would message Jon on MSN Messenger asking him "When are you coming? When are you coming?". So we had a pretty good idea that the kids were excited.

We were too. Rolf makes the most amazing smoked salmon in his Hunstad-oven™. Beth has been craving this since the first time she had it in 2006. Mmmmmm!

Rolf and Gunvor have a great house right on the fjord. With the snow, the kids had set up a pretty killer sled course down the side of the house. Of course it needed a ramp. Jon got some air!

Jon sledding

It was a lot of fun. You just can't beat good food and good times.

The biggest change from the last time we were here was Ola. Where last time. he had wanted to be in every picture... This time, if you pointed the camera in his general direction, he would dive behind a table, a wall, a person... anything to escape the camera lens. Luckily, Jon had bought a toy before we left home: a trick lens. It's mirrored, so if you point it forward, it actually takes a picture to the left or right at 90 degrees. Great for shy kid photography!

Using the lens, we actually got some good shots of him. Mirrored of course, but very nice. Definitely a recommended toy if you have kids around.

Ola - Trick Lens

We also ended up going to a Christmas concert at the Rosendal church. It was a good (and very quick) show. It turned out that due to the weather, the conductor of the choir couldn't make it... so the entire choir part was cancelled, leaving just an hour of other performances. Håvard played with the school band. (The rest of the time he rocks out with his band, Black Water. If it's black, it has to be cool!)

Suddenly though, we found ourselves thinking about time. How much time we spend doing this, how much we do that... Five weeks initially seemed like a ton of time, but now that we're in the midst of it, we realize that we might have planned just a little too much into this trip. Iceland, dog sledding, Denmark... but it is what it is. So we decided it was time to head back to Mundheim. A few more days there up until Christmas... and then on to Bergen.
Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Darkest Days...

A few days before Christmas, Hans Inge knocked out the internet in Mundheim. As it was so close to Christmas, there was no way to get it repaired so... gasp!!! We were without the net.

There were some withdrawals, mood swings... and the blog got behind by a week. We'll get it caught up soon!

We did have lots of fun in the meantime!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finally, a video... Iceland!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Days Eight to Fourteen: Mundheim

If there's truly a place in Norway that is home to me [Jon], it's Mundheim.


The first time I came to Mundheim, over ten years ago, I was enchanted. I could feel the land in my blood. My great grandparents lived here. My grandmother grew up here. Her brother, my great uncle, still lives here. His daughter Ingebjørg and her family live here as well.

It's truly a part of me.

The town itself has a population of about 40 people. A lot of the houses here are just summer homes these days. People live in the city and come out to the country for the summer. It's a quiet place. You can actually see the stars at night.

If you need food, you can cross the street, take your boat out on the fjord, and catch your dinner fresh. The first time I tried fishing here, the fish practically jumped onto my hook.

We're currently nine time zones ahead of our normal PST. We've adjusted now. Things are normal. Our days right now consist of relaxing. It is vacation after all.

We've done a tiny road trip (all of a mile or two) out to my great uncle's hytte (hytte is basically a summer house, cabin in Norsk). That was an interesting day. My great uncle doesn't speak any English. Plus, he wasn't expecting visitors that day, so he also didn't have his hearing aids in.

Communication was pretty funny.

I speak and understand some Norwegian. Much more than the first time I was here... So we are able to communicate somewhat with the older generation. It's always amusing to try. They appreciate it.

Hans' hytte is a thing of beauty. He started building it about nine years ago. Each time we've come to Norway there has been more to it. The second time I was here, the house itself had been built, but it was still quite rough inside. The third time I was here (Beth's first time), the inside was finished and he had started doing more outside. There was a dock and a dumb waiter that led from the water up to the house. He is always hard at work on this house. Pretty much every day he goes out and works more on it. Now there is a garage that wasn't here last time, a boathouse, trails all over the property, gardens for potatoes and beans, apple trees...

It's pretty amazing.

Beth & Hans at the Hytte

Beth also got to experience her first Norwegian Christmas tree hunt. Actually going up into the mountain, finding the right tree, picking it out, chopping it down...

I should point out for the record, it was me who chopped down the tree... It was a little one, and Beth will plant two more to replace it when we get home. ;)

found one!

We also got up to the old hytte, a cabin on the mountainside that I had actually never been to. My great uncle's first hytte. As the stories go, he was single when he made it... So it's small: one bed, a little table. Enough for the bachelor on the mountain side.

Let's just say that although the old hytte is very charming... and beautiful... the new hytte is definitely a step (or ten) up.

Beth also had the chance to go to a nearby bunad store/coffee house. A bunad is a traditional Norwegian costume worn on holidays, weddings and celebrations. Each area has their own particular style. Some villages have very specific variations. Beth has dreamed of making us both Hardanger bunad with the particular Mundheim bits, so on this trip, she got her first supplies to start them. On the female bunad, there is an embroidered patch under the vest called a bringklut. She found a design she liked and picked up all supplies. For me, she found the proper sock pattern and the right yarn. She'll be busy once we get home. Or more likely next summer after her graduation...

We also got our first snow. Friday morning we woke up and suddenly there was lots of snow on the ground. It's going to be a white Christmas in Mundheim! [Beth's note: YAY!!!]

beth's snow angel

So after nearly a week in Mundheim, we thought it was a good time to go to Rosendal and spend more time with other parts of the family. Ingebjørg's sister Gunvor lives in Rosendal with her family. So it's time to brave the snow and move on for a bit. We'll be back in Mundheim early next week and stay until Christmas. It's still early in the trip... but time seems to be moving quite quickly.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day Five to Seven: From Iceland to Norway

It was a very early morning in Iceland. Waking up at 3:30am local time to get the right bus to the airport. Somehow without caffeine, we managed to make it. Most of the work had been done the night before, simply a matter of throwing on our bags and stumbling down the many flights of stairs back to the street.

The bus came... and we were traveling again.

It's a two and a half hour flight from Reykjavik to Oslo.

The layover in Oslo was just over four hours.

Then, pretty much a leap... 50 minutes form Oslo to Bergen.

It was our third flight so far of the trip, we were looking forward to not having to fly again anytime soon.

Jon's father's cousin Grete and her grandson Eirik picked us up at the airport. All was well.

It was very nice to be back with family, not have to worry about anymore travel. Just be able to enjoy and relax... Most importantly to be back in Norway.

We spent the evening with Grete and her husband Svein in Arna. A town just outside of Bergen.

Vis større kart

The next day the entire family came out to Arna. The travel was still throwing us more than a little off as we woke up at 1:30pm... Pretty much the second the first people arrived. Oops!

Jon says his job is to be "the connector". He arrives in Norway and suddenly everyone gets together. It was a great night.

There was lots of food, lots of drink... and lots of people speaking Norwegian. It's possible to handle understanding one or two at a time, but with a full room going... I have to admit, didn't understand much.

Then it was time to wish everyone well, say goodnight... and take the trip back to Mundheim. Finally... it was time to go home. Our second home that is. Hurrah!
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day Four: Iceland... The Blue Lagoon

Our last day in Iceland was one for relaxation.

Started out easily enough. We found a little coffee shop/book store and got our caffeine fix for the day.

Very nice vegetarian restaurant for lunch...

And then the big event of the day, The Blue Lagoon.

Another tour bus, full to the brim, and we were off. It was a very cold and wet day. Not the perfect day for a swim... but we were looking forward to it nonetheless.

The landscape is otherworldly outside of the city. At points it truly seemed we were on the moon. There was the road... and on both sides nothing but rocks and broken land for as far as the eyes can see. Suddenly, through the rocks there appeared the most ethereal fluorescent blue water. We were close.

Cold, icy rain hit us the second we got off the bus. Made a mad run down the long path to the front door... and from there into our bathing suits. Not usual for a cold icy day.

The lagoon is amazing.

It was an interesting mix. In the pictures you see a beautiful blue sky... and the strange blue of the water as well. That wasn't reality for us. We had killer winds and icy rain... and the strange blue of the water. It was fantastic... but our faces were very cold. At least until we applied the natural silica mud masks to our faces. That gave us a fairly good shield.

We spent the afternoon swimming in the water. Relaxing in the building itself. Then again swimming in the water. It was very hard to get ourselves back out through the cold into the water once we had gotten out. But it was well worth it, the water was hotter... the winds less. Close to the surface the water was 39°. It was best floating right on the surface!

We managed to make it out of the Blue Lagoon just as the bus was about to leave... So a mad dash ensued with the both of us and just as the bus was about to pull away, we hopped on.

It was perfect... relaxing... and our skin glowed afterward.

We got back to town just in time to head off for another fine meal of lobster soup. Sooooo good.

Then it was time to move on. Our bus to the airport left at 4:30 the next morning, and we were off on the next leg of our journey: Norway!
Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day Three: Iceland

Today was pretty fabulous. We're still only partly acclimated to the time change, so we had the amusement of being wide awake at 3am local time. Luckily this wasn't too much of an issue, we should be much better after tonight.

We signed up for a tour today. First part was riding Icelandic horses through the countryside. Absolutely beautiful animals... As well as amazing surroundings. My horse was named 'Saga'. A truly fitting name. Beth got 'Indiana Jones Jr.', not quite as strongly Scandinavian... But epic nonetheless. The weather skirted between showing off little bits of clear sky and then to little bits of rain. We followed along with our Swedish guide for two hours. Don't think I've been on a horse since I was eleven or so, we definitely had a good time. Thinking we should theme this trip with animals. Between horses and dog sledding, we've got our bases covered.

There was an hour between the end of our ride and the time we were to be picked up for the next bit... As Beth's yarn sense had been tingling, she was smart enough to ask if we could get a ride out to the local Icelandic yarn and fibre factory, Alafoss. Suddenly we own new Icelandic sweaters.

It's been good for us cost-wise here so far. Due to the recent financial collapse, things are much cheaper than one would expect, especially for a Scandinavian country.

Next was a quick version of the Golden Circle tour. Five hours quick anyways. We saw stunning countryside, beautiful waterfalls, amazing geysers... and at the end, a great little show on Norse mythology which I enjoyed quite a bit. (I love that stuff.)

At any rate, now it's dinnertime. We must find food. Tomorrow will be a day of relaxing in the Blue Lagoon... then onto Norway.

So far we've enjoyed Iceland. I can see us definitely coming back in the summer season to experience the endless light.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Day Two: Iceland

Early this morning (or maybe late last night, depending how you look at it) we arrived in Reykjavik.

It was dark... As it was slightly after 1am home time when we got to our Hostel, we collapsed. It was supposed to be a brief collapse. It wasn't.

We did see light... Briefly. We slept through most of it. First day in Iceland not as action packed as we planned. Damn time zones and jet lag.

We did however have some of the most fabulous seafood we've had since last time we were in Maine. Our friendly hostel staff member directed us to a place with the best lobster soup in town. He was definitely right. Add in some grilled halibut and scallops that must have just come from the water and it was divine.

We might just have to go back before we leave.

Tomorrow we'll start with the sightseeing. The Golden Circle tour has been recommended as one to see when in Iceland, so that'll likely be what we do.

So day two was recovery, day three will lead to adventure. Pictures will start to trickle in on Saturday once we get to Mundheim.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And also...

Just so you know...

Day One: Seattle to Reykjavik

Day one:

We've arrived at Seatac. Everything has been nice and smooth. Connections made... Plane leaves in under a hour.

Beautiful view of Mt. Rainier.

Our flight is Icelandair FI680. Leaving here at 3:30pm, arriving in Reykjavik at a brisk 6:45am.

Adventure begins.

There's definitely worse ways to spend a Wednesday than wandering around Reykjavik.

Full travel mode on! It's been far too long.