The weather today is what I expected when I planned my May/June visit to Norway. In the 60’s, with a delightfully refreshing and cool breeze. Wonderful!
Jan’s surgery to remove the bolts from his repaired broken ankle went very well yesterday. It was interesting for me to be in the hospital with him, reading the door signs (and discovering that many Norwegian and English medical terms are only a few letters different from each other). His procedure – not really a surgery, as it turned out – lasted forty minutes. He was dancing when he came out, his ankle felt so good. A few stitches to be removed in time, and physical therapy appointments to schedule. He will have quite a few aches and pains as his calf, thigh, and back muscles adjust to normal walking again, but his physical and emotional state are completely different now after his four months of intense and continuing pain. Yes!!!
Today he and I drove to a grocery store in western Oslo to shop for ingredients for the baked Chicken Parmesan that I am making us for a late dinner. And because of that trip I need to revise my last post about Norwegian grocery stores – the store he took me to today (Centra) is as close to an American grocery as you can get. There are many more choices available and I felt very much at home there. It was enjoyable to walk up and down the aisles. I found a few of my favorite canned Campbell Soups (for those quick lunches I crave on weekends), more “convenience” type foods such as Old El Paso and Uncle Ben’s, and other processed foods that I am accustomed to. I did not buy any of those, as my time left here is much too short to consume them. But it was good to see them! I also wouldn’t want to shop there often; prices are higher, plus I have enjoyed the more healthy ingredients that we have been purchasing and preparing during my weeks here in Oslo. But it was a good trip, and felt very comfortable. To be honest, I needed that bit of familiarity!!
I have been getting my thoughts together about our trip back to Oslo from the Norwegian west coast on June 8th. It was a completely different landscape compared to our trip out towards Bergen, and I want to share some of that with you. My memories:
We traveled over the mountains and through the valleys, from the inland island of Osterøy to just south of Lillehammer, and then south to Oslo. On the map it doesn’t seem like a long distance. In reality it was over twelve hours, with mountains to navigate and several planned stops in the first half of the trip to let me enjoy and savor the view. We were quite tired when we arrived in Oslo and Jan’s apartment!!
It was a sunny, slightly hazy day, perfect for our trip. I now understand why Jan was so disappointed with the cloudy, foggy, rainy weather we encountered on our trip to Bergen. I think I took at least one hundred pictures during our trip back to Oslo, and if only one of those turns out I will be content. It was an absolutely glorious day for traveling.
Jan had many surprises for me.
The first was the view from Stalheim.
Leading up to that: we were on E16 (think Interstate, but only two lane – meaning, one-way in each direction) heading towards Oslo. Jan grinned and took an exit. We followed the road that climbed up to … well, I didn’t know what. It was a nice climb, but after all that we had seen in our drives in the Bergen area, plus our trip to Bergen two weeks earlier, I couldn’t imagine what he wanted to show me that wasn’t similar to what I had already seen. We climbed and got to the end of the road, and there was a hotel. It was nice enough I guess, but what was the reason for this stop so early in our trip? He just smiled and said to get out of the car. As soon as I opened the door I could hear “something” roaring. We walked to the other side of the building, to the edge of a steep cliff (yes, there is a small retaining wall there to remind us of the danger of the drop) … and there, falling below us a little to the right, was the source of the noise. A waterfall, gigantic and powerful and immense, born as drops of dripping snow in an area above and beyond us. I had seen many waterfalls from below (and would see many more), but had never seen one from above. It was immensely forceful.
Of course I was a tourist and took many photos.
And then, as we left, Jan had another surprise. Instead of taking the same (and wider) route back to the main road, we took the “one lane” winding mountain road on the other side of this tourist’s mecca.
A zigzag route, with a different view of the hotel and total landscape that cascade below from the retaining wall on which I had just been standing behind. As we drove further down the steep slope the view of the waterfall I had been observing and listening to on the edge of the cliff changed. I began to see it as one of those “common” waterfalls as seen from below …
… but this one still retained its overwhelming force to me because I had watched it at the moment it changed from a swiftly moving mountain river full of the snow melt from above me, and began its headlong journey down the boulders and rocks and trees of the cliff.
After another hour or so of travel on the main road to Oslo, we arrived in Aurland.
From here we could head up the mountain that Jan had wanted us to pass over on our trip west two weeks earlier (but because of the weather we had driven through the 24,5 kilometer tunnel). This mountain road, as I have learned to expect from all mountain roads!, was a very narrow “one lane” road in general, with occasional areas that were wide enough for two cars to pass as they met. But for the most part, picture a steep incline that zigzags back and forth up the side of a mountain, and you are traveling on a paved path wide enough for just your small car … and the outside edge of the “path” of this road, unlike the others I had been on, is straight down.
A little personal note: as a passenger in a car, I usually watch the road ahead. It’s just my nature. But Jan is a good driver and understands mountain roads in ways I never will. He grew up riding and then driving on them. And so, as we zigzagged up the side of the mountain, I was able to “let go” of the need to anchor myself by looking at the road ahead of me, and I looked out my open window. Then I leaned a bit on the door, feeling the air rush by my face (I locked the door first, of course). And I found myself lost in the panorama outside. The higher we climbed, the air became cooler, and the bigger expanse I could experience seemed to pull me into it. A fjord opened up below me. I could see a cruise ship making its way along the water towards the tourist area in Aurland. The higher we climbed, back and forth always going up the mountain, the further the ship progressed on its journey. Instead of a cruise ship, it began to look like a small boat with a tiny wake behind it, making its way slowly along a narrow river. And still we climbed…
Jan pointed out a farm on another part of this mountain, further up and away from where we were traveling, in a cleared part of a forested area. The farm and its land seemed so small, so far away. I tried to imagine living there, farming in such a remote area that was such a distance from dependable roads and a ready market for my produce and meat. Jan then commented he could see that an avalanche had taken out some of that farmer’s road, but it looked as if the road had been rebuilt. And I thought that, if he had been there at that time, the farmer must have been so frightened to hear the avalanche and not know if his family, home, barns, sheep were going to be safe. From the pattern of the bare earth, the avalanche bypassed his buildings. It really was so far away, removed from our journey up the mountain with Jan focusing on driving a familiar road and me focusing on the changing view of the fjord.
Except, as usual, my expected thoughts were completely wrong. We climbed higher, came around a curve, and suddenly were in the path of that recent avalanche with the ravaged land above and below us, and the rebuilt road a bit rough on the tires and suspension in our car. My thoughts about an event that had happened to someone else were suddenly about me – how would I feel if we were (stupidly) driving up the mountain during the rains that had loosened the earth, and then suddenly felt-more-than-heard the mountain tremble and looked up to see – or more likely, FEEL – the earth rushing towards us?
It truly was a moment where I stepped outside myself and experienced someone elses existence.
I had Jan stop our car (on this narrow, one-lane road so high up in the sky my stomach gave a little lurch as I stepped away from the car) so that I could take pictures of the farm, the avalanche path, and the view of the fjord from that vantage point. He was patient with me, as he knew that I had no idea that a few moments later we would see it from a completely different vantage point … and after resuming our zigzag trip up the mountain, we were above the property and had a different view of the fjord and farm. I refrained from asking him to stop once more …
… because, of course, we continued to climb. And the view continued to change.
And then, we reached a stopping point, not the highest on this mountain but the highest on this fjord side. Very recent construction (completed since the last time Jan drove here last summer) gave tourists a few parking spots and a simple yet somewhat garish long wooden platform …
… with wooden sides and a plexiglass end barrier that extended over the edge of the mountain to truly take in the awesome views of Aurland, the Sognefjord, the valley, and the mountains on either side of the water.
THIS was the view Jan had wanted to show me on our trip west two weeks earlier, one that recognized the amazing significance of seeing the fjord and wild landscape spread before us. He knew this would also show me the steep and magical trip down (that, this trip, had been our climb up). As a tourist, the vantage point of the “open-ended” bridge was an appreciated moment … even if it made me grab the railing as I walked confidently, then slowed a bit, and then honestly CREPT closer to the end – still while clinging to the railing – towards the glass that overlooked the steep drop down the mountain up which we had just traveled.
But I need to note here: as a Norwegian who has a familiarity with the roads and views of western Norway in his blood, the commercialization of this beautiful spot was a scar in the landscape for Jan and probably most Norwegians. And tourist that I was, fully immersed in the immensity of what I was viewing, I still can appreciate his feelings about this human-constructed blemish to the gloriously wild landscape.
But still … it was awesome.
And then we got in the car and continued on our journey. The road turned abruptly, and didn’t “zigzag” back. Higher still we climbed. No more fjord to look at, but mountains and less vegetation, fewer trees, more scrub, and then finally no scrub and just snow and wind and bleakness.
We stopped the car and took pictures of me and a snowball (yes, I threw it at Jan) …
… and Jan standing patiently.
He was considerate enough to NOT make and throw a snowball at me. If we had stayed it would have been too cold for our current clothes (warmer layers were readily available in the back seat, we were traveling over a mountain and weren’t going to be stupid in case of a breakdown!), but push onward we did.
At points the snow along the road was about twice as high as our car, but for the most part on this early June day the mountain top’s version of spring had melted a lot of it. There were moments of melt where small drops of water dripping from the snow pack collected and then started moving; as the incline and topography of the mountain encouraged them, other new melt gathered and joined in. That bit of water frequently disappeared under seemingly more dense and deep snow, but a few zigzags of our car/the road later, the liquid would suddenly reappeared as a bit wider movement of water, which as the incline continued turned into a small stream …
… which, much much MUCH later below, was a raging waterfall, one very similar to what I had witnessed at Stalheim.
Up on top of the mountain, the wind had blown what it could, and at this point of the season all that was left was melted and condensed snow, blue ice (ice upon melted ice that never completely goes away from one winter to the next) in the recesses of the land, rocks peeping through the snow, and the loneliness of the top of a cold mountain.
I love the scenery of a winter landscape. But this desolate area made me a little sad, a little mournful. I felt as if we were on top of the highest peak on earth, and it was such a distance from anywhere else. And then Jan pointed out other mountains in the distance, much taller, and I tried to imagine how desolate and bleak THOSE were.
A glacier peeked through to our view at a couple points. He commented that to reach those peaks, you must hike for days. Can you imagine?? …
… Yes, I do enjoy the winter environment. But I have to admit that I was glad as the road continued to decline and our journey took us back towards shrubs, then trees, and then spring vegetation.
We zigzagged down the other side of this mountain. The zigging and zagging felt similar, but the view was much different compared to the journey up.
The rest of the journey to Oslo took us out of those majestic Western mountains that had been a part of my eyes for the last two weeks, and into more level land that could have been Pennsylvania. We stopped in Hamar (south of Lillehammer, home of the 1994 Winter Olympics) to see the area that Jan had lived in for a time, and then continued south to Oslo. On that route, he was able to show me the Olympic Skating Rink, whose profile looks like an overturned Viking Ship. I had heard about it, and seen pictures … and in real life, it really does look like an overturned ship in the distance!
And finally we reached Oslo, with its traffic and buildings and “non-wilderness.” Somehow it seemed familiar … yet also, a little foreign. Those mountains do continue to call, making the city environment a little strange!!