Monday, July 2, 2018

Twin Cities Northeast (aka the Norwegian Fjords)

Simple starter: After Oslo, J and I visited Norway's fjord country. Representative picture (because Facebook only posts the first):

 Here we found lots of skiing trolls.

If you want the very short version, the Norwegian fjords are terrific. Be ready to stay at quaint old waterfront hotels and feel quite young among the retirees at the fabulous breakfasts;

and be ready to drive through tunnels (when not on ferries). We must have driven through 50 tunnels, ranging from about 10 meters to a mile long, and we only scratched the surface of central Norway. Some even have traffic circles in them;
and be ready to see lots of Minnesotans. Minnesotans searchig for their ancestral towns much be about 10% of tourists in Norway. It was good to work on the old college accent.

Look, the U.S. is hopelessly divided, and the other side was mean first; as a result, J and I have decided to give up all pretense of inter-group exchange. Plus, it’s really annoying to drive through Fjord country. So, we decided to take a progressives-only Rick Steves tour for this leg of our trip. This was our tour bus (with pot on demand of course). 

One drawback of a big tour is the lack of restaurant options, but Rick Steves uses this cool coffee house. 

Ok, folks, those are all jokes, and the photos are from Copenhagen, and we took a city bus from Oslo and then our own car. However, it is true that we stayed at a Rick Steves–approved hotel. And is true that we went to the fjord town — Mundal — where Walter Mondale’s ancestors are from. And is true we have a cosmically important election to win. (Please, stop trying to convince your conservative uncle on Facebook. If he doesn't care about the fate of Congress when abortion rights and healthcare hang in the balance, and after the president brags about sexual assault, has never bothered to criticize the Russians' election meddling (and, at the very least, has a son who intended to collude), uses illegal cruelty against children as a bargaining chip, seeks to eviscerate environmental protections and public lands, threatens to single-handedly throw the economy into recession with tariffs he doesn't even have an Economics 101 grasp on, and salutes North Koreans, I don't think you're going to convince him. Go find and register a new voter instead.) But I digress. So I won’t mention that growing up I went to the church in DC that Mondale attended as vice-president …

Speaking of ancestral roots, I need to trace down the side of my family that went from Germany to Norway and opened a bakery. All the flavor of a pretzel somehow got lost in the move though …

Scandinavia has a lot of ships, and of course especially in the fjords. Last time I didn’t even blog the classic Vasa warship, which sank in 1627, 20 minutes after its launch from Stockholm's harbor (pictured below), the Viking ships and Fram museums in Oslo (the latter is the ship Amundsen used to reach the South Pole first, in 1911), etc. The point is: these people have been painting ships on their churches since the 1100s.

Needless to say, therefore, we decided to take a city bus from Oslo to the Fjords instead of a boat. But actually, the views on the bus were epic the whole way, so we were glad Giggi recommended it. 

Out first town was Fjaerland. Due to said unusual decision to take the bus from Oslo, we had a bit of a walk from the bus station to our hotel. Thankfully for us — and our friendship with Giggi — it didn’t rain as we walked the 1 kilometer 3 kilometers into town.
We were rewarded with the best (Juniper-infused) beer of the trip. Must have been over $20 for the big bottle.

Fjearland is an international book town, which means it has to have a certain number of book shops. They stretch the rules a bit shelves with a few books and self-pay boxes are everywhere but the effect is very cool. 

I was able to use our day here to find some important reading I've been meaning to catch up on. 

Fjearland also has a very cool glacier museum right under the (needless to say, shrinking) Jostedalsbreen Glacier, the largest in continental Europe (romantic artist's interpretation):

Here's the Rick Steves–approved hotel in Balestrand, our next stop. 

In between fjords we stopped in Bergen, a deservedly touristical city famous for its adorable old town of restored half-timber buildings that housed the merchants of the Hanseatic League (a medieval confederation of German traders back when people appreciated the benefits of international trade). But really we loved learning about Snorri the Seal, a cartoon character developed by a Norwegian author. The original 1941 Snorri book was an allegorical denouncement of the Nazi occupation of Norway that eluded the Nazi censors (for a time). Seriously, the Russian polar bear looks a lot like Trump. 

The weather in Bergen is easy to describe:
Norwegians seek coziness against this rain so much that they even make waffles when they meet in churches. 

The Hanseatic League made a lot of money trading cod.

From Bergen we went on the proverbial all-Norwegian roadtrip, stopping by a bunch of excellent waterfalls. As regular readers know, one thing I love about drive-by European nature is the excellent in-porcelain-cup espresso at the touristical places. 

Giggi's Mom recommend Utne (and Norway's oldest hotel; see breakfast picture), and the drive there was a lovely tour through the cherry capital of Norway. Got to love honor-system cherry kiosks.

There was one more amazing waterfall on the road to Geilo, I think Norway's tallest, but don't quote me on that.

And the best part of the drive to Geilo was Hardangervidda National Park, a barren almost-Irish-feeling plateau marked by dramatic azure lakes and glaciers.

Giggi termed Geilo itself the “Park City of Utah." Maybe, if PCMR had about 2,000 less of vertical drop — and about 1900 more kilometers of Nordic trails. Same crazy roller-skiers are there for sure. Notice he's in traffic. On the highway. About to go down a curving hill. Makes the Tour de Park City look like a roll in the park.

When you think the fjords, you think bowling, which is what we did on our last night in Norway. Just don't ask J about the hamburger she ate at the "real, American diner" at the alley.

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