Norway Part IV

We docked at Trondheim at 6:30 a.m. for a three and a half hour stop. Paul and I waited for my niece’s son, who is studying at the University of Trondheim to appear; even at this early hour we were hoping for an insider’s view of the city, but there was a miscommunication of some sort, so we regretfully took off on our own.

Our guidebook book had told us about the storehouses of Bryggene that stand on piles and can be seen best from Nedre Bakklandet. As the book said, their site, shapes and colors were fascinating, perfect for a good photo.

My sister Randi had said, “You must see the Niardos Cathedral when you are in Trondheim.”

It wasn’t too hard to find because the city is clearly laid out and the Cathedral has a high crossing tower that can be can be seen from far away. Our guidebook said it is “the most representative Scandinavian architectural monument in the Gothic style.” The intricately sculptured west front has patriarchs, the apostles, prophets, kings, archbishops, saints, virtues (charity hope, faith), the Virgin Mary and other representations not mentioned.

As Paul and I were on foot and we had to get back to our ship in time–they tell you the ship simply sails without you if you’re not there–we never saw the Cathedral from the inside. (I still grimace at that missed opportunity…those beautiful stained glass windows!)

That night, our last night, we dined with our Austrian dinner companions, Bridget and Hilda, while the waiters and waitresses lit torches spewing sparks that seemed ALMOST DANGEROUS and marched around the tables creating a festive air.

It made me think of a story Mom had told me of when she was about ten years old. Here is the story:

My grandparents were taking the “Christmas Boat” from Kristiansand to Oslo in celebration of many years of marriage. (Not sure how many.) In the dining room, a tree was lit with real candles, just like they always did in Norway in the old days. Mom was giddy with the grown-up festive atmosphere, the good food, her parents’ jovial mood (my grandfather was either taciturn, or for special occasions, jovial), but her eyes were riveted to the fire of the candlewicks sensing DANGER.

All at once, she noticed the tree had caught fire. “Brann, brann, brann!” my ten year-old mother shouted out to the boozy holiday crowd. Finally, the grown-ups took notice and there was a rush to drown it out. My mother was proudly the Christmas child savior of the day.

I’ll leave you there on the coastal voyage. There was more…much more, including some nasties like Paul catching a terrible cold, but after a while these things probably begin to sound like a few too many slides no matter how artistic the photography and no matter how artful the raconteur.

However, I was gathering knowledge of my mother.

Norway Part III

But then, once again the scenery surprised us from the dark dramatic mountains we left behind us after the Trollfjorden to the dreamy low-lying Lofoten Islands we saw from a tour bus once we had docked in Svolvaer.

There were also the haunted lives of fishermen and farmers depicted in paintings on the ship to be taken in as we walked from one deck level to another.

And the happy painting, illustrating young love and summer in the mountains. This painting made me think of Mom, who had a true romantic streak running through her veins…”When you meet the man of your dreams…”

“Really, Mom, all my dreams will come true?”

Norway Part II

Cora Sandel’s Alberta and Jacob takes place in Tromsø, Norway, catching readers with the simple opening winter words:

“The church clock shone like a moon in the night sky.”

This description lifts me up by her claws and sails away with me into the ethereal beauty of nights in Norway.

On this particular night, though not austere like Alberta’s winter, the MS Richard With docked in Tromsø where we boarded a bus that drove us to the Arctic Cathedral for a candlelit midnight concert.

Summer…natural light at midnight…stained glass…candlelight inside the church…Norwegian folk music…with Paul; We entered a rapturous state.

Afterwards, we walked out of the Cathedral in a dream state and were amazed to remember it really was still bright daylight here at one in the morning.

The next day our ship entered the Trollfjorden, our first experience of the “real” fjords Mom had talked about. Excitedly, we jammed into each other on deck trying to catch our first glimpse.

We saw jagged cliffs, waterfalls, and family dwellings at the foot of the valley, all very welcoming in feel.

Then the ship turned 360 around within a very small area– not much larger than the ship itself–and we headed out again.

Now the mountains looked forbidding and ominous.

Norway Part I

The ghost I was chasing on our Norwegian Coastal voyage was the ghost of my Norwegian mother at her happiest, when her pale blue eyes would step from her face in an old fashioned, romantic dance such as the waltz with a good partner…”Norway’s west coast is so different from the south. It has the real fjords and of course the unusual light. I can’t quite describe it, but if you ever get the chance, go and see it yourself.”

And so, I went so many years after she had said the words to see with my own eyes why her eyes did that waltz.

We began the voyage from the very north of Norway: Kirkenes, six miles from Russia to the east, twenty-two miles from Finland to the south. On board the ship MS Richard With–before we had even been allowed to go to our cabin–we stood on deck as the boat pulled out from the pier on a cloudy afternoon on July 6th.

Later in the afternoon, after our first step off the boat and on again at Vardo, and heading towards Berlevåg, the clouds lifted a bit and we observed a special mixture of colors on the water–prominent over blues, a dark flecked pink.

…And then the clouds entirely disappeared and we saw stark jutting wrinkled-looking landforms such as my eyes had never witnessed before.

That night we feasted on creamed Norwegian fish soup, reindeer steaks with spiced sausage and for dessert, Finnmark cloudberries with sour cream and crispy biscuits. (I am sure this dessert was not cloudberries as listed on the menu because I know their unique orange color and flavor, having picked them with the family on our way up the mountains to my grandfather’s hutte. However, this desert was so wonderful, I’ll show you what it did look like; you can imagine how it tasted.)

Paul and I were beginning to enjoy our first steps into this Norwegian romantic dance of the senses.

About Happy Times in Norway

In a telephone conversation with my older sister, Krissie, two weeks ago, she asked me if I had ever read Sigrid Undset’s Happy Times in Norway.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said.

“Well, if you haven’t, you must. It’s kind of a memoir, and she tells all about Christmas, the 17th of May, and summer in the mountains.”

As if Krissie were talking food, I drooled. Then I took action. Quick to Amazon.com. I found an old copy for $10. When it came in the mail, I tore open the padded mailer.

That night I read the first section–Merry Christmas. Oh, oh, oh, the old Norwegian Christmases Mom used to tell us about: The nipping white snow right outside the front door offset by cozy interiors featuring weeks baking to serve drop-by guests, preparing special cured meats for the early morning family feast after Christmas Eve, the beckoning glamour and warmth of the candle-lit table. In a country with so many mountains, a long cold dark winter, and few people, the Christmas gathering and rejoicing created sparks of nourishing “light,” pointing the human spirit towards spring.

And in spring came the next holiday, the celebration of the creation of Norway’s independence from Denmark and Sweden, which occurred on May 17, 1814. On this day, in the town of Eidsvold, a constitution was signed to protect “the rights and justice, the dignity and honor of the Norwegian people….to live under laws ‘sewn’ to meet their own requirements.” Celebrated with fireworks, parades, speeches, and song, Undset’s book recounts Norway’s pride in freedom.

And, lastly, Summer Vacation, Undset’s third section in Happy Times in Norway, which is a descriptive piece about life lived simply and richly at a saeter (cabin) in the mountains during the brief Norwegian summer when Unsets tells of the goats and cows who eat grass from the meadows in the valleys and produce milk for butter and cheeses, where hikes give the eyes a visual bath of moss and lichen, heather and huckleberry bushes, monkshood, and “flats of juicy grass,” blueberries, and cloudberries.

Ah, some of the wonders of three important Norwegian traditions in one little red book.