Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From Bergen to Rosendal: Switching Sides of the Family

I was totally sold the second the boat left the dock in Bergen. This, my friend, is the way to travel. Not that I have anything against the buses. They have served me well... but zooming across the fjords on a beautiful sunny day, you just can't beat it.


Where once, I saw quite a similarity between the west coast of BC and the west coast of Norway... These days I don't. I see the similarities in that they're both coastal. The weather can often be the same... Other than that though, not so much. To me, Norway is unlike any other place in the world. The little coastal villages we passed by on the boat only enforced this more.

We arrived in Rosendal. Beth had been looking forward to this part since day one. Finally getting out into the countryside. Away from the city. Just relaxing with family. Fishing. Fishing. More fishing.

It was interesting for me because it was the opposite of how I usually do this part of the trip. Never before had I first come to Rosendal and then gone to Mundheim. It's always been the other way around. But the boat across the fjords worked very very well and I think this might just become the regular way to get out here.

Gunvor met us at the dock... and we were home.

It's always interesting the split when switching sides of the family. Of course, being out in the country makes it all easier. Everyone is close by. It's not such a task to get everyone together or to see everyone. They're all there already.

It was great to be back. We stopped on the way back and picked up Oystein, who of course was in a river fishing. The boy lives to fish. Every waking second I think that he thinks about fish. All around. One day he will be a master fisherman, with his own TV show. We made it back to the house and to the rest of the family. Walking in, Rolf already had one of his famous dinners on the stove. We were set.

The first night we spent catching up. Talking, eating. Having a great time.

The next day my first good chance to jump in the fjord. You see, the weather had finally changed for the good completely. Basically the afternoon we left the family reunion in Sognefjord, we saw the sun start to come out... the blue sky start to take over. The weather, which we had wished to be good then... finally was good.

Brave swimmers

And when the weather is good, there's just one thing to do. Jump in the fjord. Ola was the brave one. He was already down there, swimming, jumping off the dock. I had to give myself a little bit of a push. It wasn't quite warm to the point of absolutely needing to get in the water. The water itself wasn't as warm as it would be after a long hot summer. But really, if the opportunity is there. You have to take it.

It was very good. Very refreshing. Much needed.

Try as I might, there was no way to convince Beth to jump in. Everyone else did. My lovely wife, not so much. So much for nature girl, the only water she'll jump into must be full of chlorine.

When we were done with the swimming, it was time to head out onto the fjord. Rolf took us and Oystein out zooming across the fjord in his new boat. We took a tour of the fjord, the local islands, did a loop of the fish farms, and just enjoyed the scenery. It's a beautiful, beautiful place.

Øystein: Norwegian Fisher King

The afternoon came and Rolf & Gunvor took us for a trip far up into the mountains. A fairly long drive from Rosendal up Hardangervidda to a power station way up in the hills. Again, the scenery we were passing on the way was just gorgeous. I'll never lose my appreciation for the natural beauty of Norway. Fjords that are the deepest most radiant blue. The majestic cliffsides. Massive waterfalls.

Beth & Jon & A Waterfall

We traveled far up into the mountains and the four of us went for a mini hike up the roads by the powerplant. Apparently it is quite a nice hike if you have more time for it. We didn't have a whole lot of time left before it would get dark and we had to get back to town to meet the kids, so we took some pictures, had some fun, and drove back to town.

Group Shot! Rolf, Beth, Gunvor & Jon

The next day we relaxed during the day. Finally a chance to just enjoy our surroundings and not worry about anything else. The kids were in school, Rolf & Gunvor had to work. So we enjoyed some time just for us. When they all made it back, again we took to the fjord.

The weather started to turn again. We got a little bit of a mist. Then a little bit of a rain. We crossed the fjord, did a loop towards the town and then back out. We came across some commercial fishing boats who were fishing for sardines. We pulled right up along side them. It was pretty fascinating. They had laid out nets throughout the area... then they brought the nets in quite a bit and scooped up the thousands and thousands of tiny sardines with a giant basket. It was one guy's job to aim the basket and then operate the scoop on it. Lifting them out of the water and over the cargo hold on the boat where he'd open the basket and thousands upon thousands of sardines would fall into the boat.

Sardine Fishing!

We stayed and watched for quite a while. Neither Gunvor nor the kids had ever been this close to the boats when this was done. It was pretty fascinating. In the end, we bought a bucket of sardines from them and headed back to the shore. The rain had started to get harder and harder so it was time to head back.

Beth had had enough of the rain by the time we made it to shore, so she and Gunvor went up into the house. The rest of us headed back out onto the fjord. Now that we had sardines for bait... It was fishing time!

We actually caught quite a few. The bigger fish had gathered around where the boats were fishing for sardines. They knew it was easy pickings. So did we. You could see them in the water below the boat. Of course, the bait worked quite well. The boys all caught good fish. I got one too. There's nothing quite like that absolute thrill that shakes through your sytem the first second you feel the fish bite on your line. The battle that ensues between you and him. Rolf said afterwards he thought I was trying to stay calm and cool when the fish bit. Like it was no big deal. But he could see how excited I was. I guess that might be true, but I didn't think personally I was trying to stay cool. I was most definitely enjoying the moment.

So with another great dinner, we felt our time in Rosendal was getting short. We had decided to head to Mundheim the next day to close out the trip. Ingebjorg and the kids in Mundheim had the day off, so it was a perfect time to get over there. We woke up early the next day and Gunvor took us out to the ferry. It's in a new spot from where it's always been. Apparently the old terminal wasn't big enough anymore for it's usage so it had to be rebuilt about 5km farther down the road. In a sense it was too bad, because it used to be so close. Time does change things, even out here.

We said our farewells to Gunvor. Tried to get her to commit to bringing everyone over to Mundheim for one last visit before we headed home... and she headed off to work.

The ferry arrived... and we were once again sailing across the fjord. Destination: Mundheim.

Ola posing again
Monday, September 13, 2010

Not A Lavvo

Joining up again Friday afternoon with Helge and his family, we were off to Norevik on the Sognefjord. The family reunion was upon us. It's about a three hour drive with a ferry across the fjord as well. I just started to daydream and watch the beautiful scenery race by. Norway is a beautiful country. There isn't any other (to my knowledge) like it. I love the twisting roads, the endless tunnels, the mighty fjords. The longest tunnel we went through on the drive was about 11km. In perspective, that's like entering a tunnel in downtown Vancouver and coming out in the middle of Burnaby. Some of them are crazy long. Beth doesn't like the tunnels. The thought of all that mountain above us, not so comforting. Me? No problem.

By the time we hit the ferry, we'd met up with more family (Sveinung & Eva, Camilla & Martin) and across we went.

The weather was a question. There were signs that it could be good... but more and more it was looking like it would go bad.

We made it to Norevik. Helge had a cabin, so they went off there to settle in. Us? In a romantic notion, thinking of beautiful weather of the Norwegian summer, I had decided that we would reserve a lavvo.

A lavvo is sort of a Scandinavian teepee. Some good friends of ours were married last summer and they'd stayed in a lavvo the night of their wedding. It was beautiful and spacious... filled with proper bedding. In remembering their lavvo, I thought that would be a great idea. Sure, the website didn't have pictures of their lavvos... But well, that was no problem. It would most definitely live up to the vision in my head. How could it not? A lavvo, on the Sognefjord, in the middle of summer... It would be fit for a king.

Well... About that...

It turned out what they called a lavvo was most definitely not. Not a lavvo. It was a tent. A big tent yes... but not a lavvo.


It was cold. It was wet. It was fairly obvious we could not spend the weekend sleeping in this "lavvo".

So again, it came to Helge to save the day. The guy should wear a cape... My cousin Stian volunteered to give up his room... So between the two of them, we had a roof over our heads and a warm place to sleep.

Helge & Hansa

The whole weekend was interesting for me. I came in to it feeling that I had to be there and yet knowing that it wouldn't stack up to my memories of the original. It was unfair to Beth in a way because I spent the entire weekend drifting. Not necessarily thinking about having her with me at all times but rather just about where I wanted to be, what I wanted to experience.

That was alright. She had plenty of new, previously unmet family to bond with.

Probably key among these were cousins that I hadn't met yet either. Helge's niece and nephews Anett, Jokke and Thomas. Along with Stian, they provided constant amusement all weekend. It was great to get to spend time with them all.

As for the weekend itself... Of course it wasn't perfect. We'd only gotten our cabin situation dealt with when we first met up with Arthur. A cousin of my father and member of the organizing committee... We hadn't actually ever gotten an invite (it was supposed to have made it to us, but never did). So in a sense we were a surprise to be there... Beth worried for a moment they were going to kick us out. I wasn't worried... I suppose I'm used to just showing up now. At any rate, it wasnt a problem. Beth & I became #173 and #174.

174 people. I expected that. Expected more actually... I was sure there had been more in 1999. Still, it was a huge crowd of people... all related to me.

The weather was the biggest hurdle. Though apparently it had been beautiful the week before and it would be again the week after... Our first week in Norway was cold and wet. This was true of the Sognefjord as well. So cold... So wet... and really, the hall was not big enough for the people... So a good portion (including us) ended up outside for the meal. When we entered the hall for dinner, we found ourselves subject to reservation signs... People had beat us down there during the day and called tables. Tables for families, tables for kids, no tables for us. It was a major flaw to it all. I had the feeling that if my Great Uncle Ledvin was still alive and there, then there would have been no chance we'd have ended up outside, but it was what it was. The speeches and festivities from inside did not make it to the outside... Mostly the outside crowd did a lot of shivering (even with the heaters) and once the food was served, enjoyed their meals and made a break for it. Back to the cabins. It affected the party afterwards as well, as I remember all the people outside partying for most of the night during the 1999 reunion. Wandering from group to group, drinking with every crazy Norwegian family member I found. This time, that wasn't the case. It was too cold, too wet for any outside merriment... and so that toned down the entire party to an extent.

I floated. It drove Beth a little crazy. I floated between the family I'm close with, the ones I barely remembered, the ones that most definitely remembered me. I listened to the speeches, even though with so many voices to pick through, I was having trouble understanding much of anything. I took video (I tell you, that iPhone4 is so darn handy) and pictures and just tried to suck as much of it in as I could.

Due to the weather, the group picture didn't end up happening. This was too bad as well... They had been planning to do it on Saturday before dinner, but that was not to be.

So there were speeches... Then came the food... Then came the party and the dancing. Of course, a good amount of Hansa (the beer of Bergen and the west coast) kept the night flowing smoothly.

There were definitely highlights to the evening. The chance to spend good time with my Great Aunt Asta. The two of us shared a dance, I felt a little ridiculous (which of course proved that I wasn't drunk enough to be dancing). It was still a lot of fun. She also explained a lot of the connections and the pictures on the walls. Pictures of her parents and grandparents. Of my grandfather and great uncle. Pictures that were taken even before she was around. A lot of history to my family in this place.

Old Family Pictures

Overall it was an excellent experience and I was glad to have made the trip just to be there. Of course there were hiccups... Of course things didn't necessarily go to plan. It was great to get the chance again to make these connections and to actually be far more able to process and understand it all... As opposed to the first time, which was a whirlwind... I'd only been in the country for five days, no experience with the language... So much harder to take everything in.

This time it was manageable. This time I could understand far more... and even though I couldn't convince Beth to speak a word of it, she did well with understanding as well.

The party went well into the night. We retired to the cabins and the drinking and talking continued. It was a great time with a lot of people that I've become amazingly close to over the last eleven years. People that took me in eleven years ago when I just suddenly showed up on the doorstep. The power of blood and this half of my heritage.

We woke up the next morning and the weather was starting to clear. We packed up all our bags, said our goodbyes to the people that were still there. The people that we wouldn't see again this trip. With the end of the family reunion, so too came the end of our time in Bergen and time with this side of the family. Helge, Tove and Stian took us back out to Bergen. The one person I had missed seeing yet, I had expected her to be at the family reunion, was my Great Aunt Gudrun. Ledvin's wife. Another that I am really close with... and who has been an absolutely wonderful beautiful person to me since the first day I arrived. Helge was good enough to take us to Eidsvag (where I had shown up out of the blue eleven years before) for a quick visit with her (his aunt). We hugged, we chatted quick. She was disappointed that we couldn't come inside. It was quick, but it was good we got the chance.

Us & Gudrun

Helge dropped us off in downtown Bergen. We said our farewells to the three of them, our endless thanks... and again, we were alone.

It was time to switch sides of the family. From my grandfather's family to my grandmother's family. Time to go from the city to the country.

A boat was leaving from Bergen to Rosendal about an hour and a half from the time Helge dropped us off... We bought our tickets, found the dock... the boat arrived... and we were traveling again.

Time for Rosendal!
Sunday, September 5, 2010

Norway? Well, it's hot and sunny in summer.

Or so I told my lovely wife.

This turned out not to be the case. Although it had been the previous week, all we got was rain the first week in Bergen. We made the best of it anyways.

Most of Sunday and Monday were write offs. Sunday we'd been so exhausted after travel that it was all sleep. Monday was much the same.

We did have a mission on Monday we wanted to take care of though. Sim cards for our phones. To be able to use our own phones would just be so damn handy while we were in Norway that it became our first priority. It was easy enough (in theory). We just stopped by a shop in sentrum, picked up cards, popped them in... and off we go.

Unfortunely for some reason, simple is never simple enough. We got the cards, no problem. Popped one into Beth's phone. It worked. Popped one into my phone? Not so much.

On the day we bought our iPhone4's... Mine had camera issues and I had to take it back to the Apple Store and get a replacement. Unfortunately, we think that the guy who replaced my phone gave me one locked to Rogers instead of the unlocked I had paid for. When you're in a foreign country and testing this, very little can be done. Rogers official response was "We don't care." Apple had no response. So, one working phone was better than none at any rate.

The first person we ended up seeing in town was my cousin Helge and his wife Tove. As always, it was great to see them. Helge and I have had some great adventures in the past and are quite close.

The pure amount of smokers in Bergen amazes me. People constantly have a cigarette between their lips. It's hard to comprehend how an otherwise healthy people can have such a common unhealthy habit. I remember the first time I was here people could still smoke in malls etc. Now it's all outside, so at least there's that. The amount of money people must spend on them here though is insane.

Tuesday night we took a trip out to dinner in Arna with my Grandmother's sister's family. Arna is an 8 minute train ride from Bergen Central Station. A quick shot under one of the seven mountains.

Again, they are all wonderful people and I've felt a strong connection to them since the first time I was here. We had a good visit and then hopped the train back under the mountain to Bergen.

Already I realize that everything on this trip is going to seem a lot more quick and brief than usual. Even the first time I was here I stayed longer than two weeks. On the flip side though, since we were here only eight months ago last, it doesn't seem like the normal "you have to catch up on three years worth of events". We'll see if there's a happy medium between the two.

My cousin Glenn, whose place we've been staying at in Bergen was back from his work on Tuesday. He arrived when we were on our way to Arna. He was planning on heading up to the family cabin in Lindås. Camilla (his sister) and Martin (her fianceé) were already up there.
After promising to call us back as the plan progressed, the next we heard from him he was on a boat to the cabin. Plans? Who needs em.

Now we just needed to find a way to Lindås.

It actually turned out to be a pretty easy trip. The great thing about buses in Norway is that they go pretty much everywhere in the country. It is a proven fact, however, that if there's anyone in the country who does not speak English, it's a bus driver. I'm pretty sure there's a spot on their application form that if English is stated as a spoken language it disqualifies you from being hired.
At any rate, we made it out to Lindås and after about an hour enjoying free wifi in a little cafe, somehow managed to wake up Glenn to come get us. Mission successful. We had arrived.

The cabin in Lindås is a beautiful place and exactly what I needed at this point in the trip. Accessible only by water, it was built by my Great Uncle Ledvin about 40 years ago. We had the chance to come here during Beth's first trip to Norway and enjoyed it immensely.

We spent the afternoon out on the boat, fishing. Didn't catch a single fish but that was alright. It was great to be able to spend some time with Camilla, Martin and Glenn. After the fishing we spent the evening back at the cabin... Drinking Hansa and playing Jenga. It was an amusing night.

YouTube Video

Then it was time to go back to town. The weekend was getting closer, as was the reason for this trip, the family reunion in Sogn. We could only hope the weather would get better as we made the trip up there. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And so we arrived...


In my rosy memories it's always hot and sunny in August. I'd likely say the same about Vancouver. The thing is, that's not always true.

The one thing that was kind of sketchy and unconfirmed about my plan was what exactly was going to happen when our plane landed in Bergen. The truth was I wasn't entirely sure at all if anyone would be there... and as it turned out, they were not.

So it was that we took the bus into town, not really knowing if we'd be able to get into my cousin Glenn's place at all. It had been a long travel day. I'd probably gotten all of two hours sleep in the previous 24. We were ready to just collapse... but we needed food and our bearings first. So some fine gluten free pizza at Peppe's was our first priority. We borrowed our waiter's phone and touched base with the family. Problem was, no one was in town. Turned out everyone we could call had been out to Eikelandsosen for a concert and party weekend. We pretty much just had to take a chance and go blind. Lucky for us, Glenn's roommate Christian was home (just ten minutes before we got there) and could let us in.

Relief! A home base... We got there about 3:30pm and were unconscious mere minutes later. We woke briefly in the middle of the night, but did not actually move again until nearly 3pm the next day.

The travel had wiped us out completely, but we were in Bergen.