Of Fjords and Family Trees

Posted by on Jun 10, 2011 in General Travel, Norway | 2 Comments

Having spent a few days in Oslo, we decided to head to western Norway, the land of many of the famous fjords as well as the region that my Norwegian ancestors called home.

The train ride from Oslo to Bergen was a spectacular trip that took us across the country and through several mountain passes. Even though it was almost June, the scenery for much of the journey looked more like December.

Pierre en route to Bergen

Pierre en route to Bergen.

The local cuisine that Pierre sampled on the train. He was less than enthused.

The local cuisine that Pierre sampled on the train. He was less than enthused.

While it was a beautiful city, Bergen lived up to its reputation for being a gray and rainy place. As a result, our days there were relatively quiet and uneventful. We spent a lot of time in wine bars and a coffee bar/travel book store (what a brilliant idea!), took a tram to the top of a mountain to check out the views, visited the fish market (where, somewhat oddly, everyone spoke Spanish), and went for some long runs on the scenic, well-marked paths that seem to be everywhere in Norway.

Self-portrait in Bergen during a break from the rain.

Self-portrait in Bergen during a break from the rain.

Bergen's harbor, called Bryggen.

Bergen's harbor, called Bryggen.

Detail on a ship in Bergen's harbor.

Detail on a ship in the harbor.

Our next (and, sadly, final) Norwegian destination was Stavanger, which I was particularly excited to see because it is the area from which my mother’s father’s family had come. While I hoped to do a little research there to see what I could find out about the family, I had a feeling there wouldn’t be time to track down dusty old records in some city hall somewhere.

I should have known better — this is Norway! One of the first questions the woman who ran our amazing B&B, Åmøy Fjordferie, asked me was “do you have family in Norway?” When I said, “well, maybe” and explained the history, she excitedly told me about the various resources available in Stavanger for researching family records — including a “Norwegian Emigration Center,” which Pierre and I visited straight away. The place was filled with shelves of neatly organized books and records, and extremely helpful employees bustled around assisting us in locating what we needed.

Anyone with Norwegian ancestors must check this place out.

Anyone with Norwegian ancestors must check this place out.

Since my people were farmers, we located the records of their farm, some census records, and American ship records, and voilà. We were able to learn, among other things, that my great-great-great-grandparents had rented their farm and that at one point they had one cow, eleven pigs, one goat, and two tons of potatoes. The level of detail was incredible (and kind of hilarious)! One thing we weren’t able to track down, given our limited time, was where the farm was. If and when we return to Norway, though, I fully intend to do some more research and hopefully pay the place a visit.

And about that B&B, Åmøy Fjordferie? Like I said, amazing! A bit of a haul from downtown Stavanger, but so worth it. It was cozy, beautifully situated right on a fjord, and surprisingly affordable.

View from our room.

View from our room.

The owners cooked up a mean breakfast, made good strong coffee, and were just great people. Lillian was always saying “Yah, vell, okay den,” and her husband Jan-Thor — apart from having the coolest name ever — had an uncanny ability to predict the weather. So when he told us to wait to hike to the Pulpit Rock in the Lysefjord because the rain would stop at around 5 p.m., we listened.

Lo and behold, almost at 5:00 on the dot, the clouds began to lift and the sun came out as we were hiking up the mountain (by the way, “hiking” in Norwegian apparently means “clambering over large boulders for hours at a time”).

Pierre on the way up to the Pulpit Rock.

Pierre on the way up to the Pulpit Rock.

On the trail.

On the trail.

When we finally reached the top, this is what we saw:

The sun comes out over the Lysefjord.

The sun comes out over the Lysefjord.

Catching a glimpse.

Catching a glimpse.

Robin on the Pulpit Rock.

Robin on the Pulpit Rock.

The Pulpit Rock from Another Angle.

The Pulpit Rock from another angle.

The incredible scenery was everything I had hoped when I imagined visiting the Norwegian fjords, and only added to my love for the country as a whole. This is one place I would go back to in a heartbeat. I can’t remember the last time I felt so safe, comfortable, and at home as I did in Norway. Plus, I was constantly charmed. Just look at how they dress their adorable kids for field trips!:

Munchkins.

Munchkins in vests!

And the troll obsession, while a little weird, is still pretty cute.

Norwegians love their trolls.

Norwegians love their trolls.

It may sound cheesy, but our week in Norway made me proud to be part Norwegian. If only it wouldn’t require us to blow through our entire yearlong travel budget in two months, I would stay forever.

2 Comments

  1. Sandy
    June 13, 2011

    Wow. I almost cried reading this post. It made me remember a trip to the Norwegian fjords a long time ago when Ed and I economized by eating corn flakes for two meals a day just so we could cruise the fjords. It is an easy place to fall in love with. It is hard to imagine how all those immigrants must have felt when they reached flat, barren places like North Dakota. Someone needs to do some serious re-writing of American history books. Seems like immigration was mostly driven by poverty, not opportunity.

    Gosh, Robin, don’t you miss my rants?

    Carry on, travelers!

    Reply
  2. Ed
    June 19, 2011

    Farmers! Your gene pool consists equally of rural people from western Norway, northern Germany, western Ireland and northern France. (Not sure about the last one–the farmer part, that is.)

    I had forgotten about the corn flakes (a very nice memory now that I am reminded about it), but I do recall that on the train to Bergen the music of Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” started playing over the loudspeaker system when we reached the top of the range between Oslo and Bergen. Do they still do that? Like the troll stuff–corny but charming.

    Reply

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