Travel Times

March 15, 2017

An Update on What’s New or Recent?

Updated 5 July 2017

We leave in 3 days for a warmer experience in Tucson where we have never been. We always drive to see more country. This time the stops along the way from Maplewood MN are Emporia KS, Amarillo TX, and Las Cruces NM. We’ve gone several winters to San Antonio TX, but we decided for something different. We’ll be gone for three weeks.

Since relocating in Maplewood six years ago, we have heightened our time with our children and grandchildren. Each of us lives about 20 miles from the other two, forming the points of a triangle We try to have a family gathering every Sunday evening but that at times does not work thanks to a multiplicity of activities. We have been active in Pilgrim Lutheran in Saint Paul where our son, Kristo(fer), has recently ended his term on the Church Council.

Benjamin, 24 in July, continues with Epic and lives in Madison WI with Carol Daniels, together through high school, university, and after. They are marrying on August 20. Anna, 21 in July, finished her Junior year at St Olaf college with study in London for 10 weeks and 7 more in Florence, living with an Italian family to learn the language and spending her time with 97 museums.

Hannah, 16 going on 30, continues as a competitive Irish dancer plus all of her other pursuits such as joining the Young Democrats once she got to high school. The twins, now 11, continue in Minnesota Boychoir, Irish dance, and are learning classical guitar besides French horn (Austin) and cello (Henry). Their birthdays are all in November. They all read a lot.

Of course, Pat and I have felt besieged by the past and current political season. We follow a lot of analysis but it is hard for us to believe that so many could be so astray from good sense and democratic foundations and values. I am at odds with myself over the rising tide of selfish desire and authoritarianism. What bothers me the most is the seeming openness to learning and loss of education.

At 77 years, I feel the loss of relevant time. So many things are yet to be finished, at least to my satisfaction.

In the midst of all this furious quandary, we took the proverbial trip of a lifetime, two years in the planning. In 2014, we signed up for a Viking Cruise 15-day tour of the Baltic. Since we would leave from Bergen and end in Stockholm, we decided to spend time before and after in Norway.

The Vikings had an expression that goes like this –

Benre dem som vandar finn nye vagar. Only one who wanders finds new paths.

We found populations in metro areas are mixed. European countries have been receiving immigrants for many years. Today’s refugee situation has accelerated this mixture. New populations come from the Middle East and Africa, as well as India and Asia. Also with the European Union, Europeans are on the move, often for better employment, but also tourism. Although European tourists generally make their individual way, organized busloads of Japanese tourists are most noticeable. We saw one group tour of Indonesians.

Because Europe has a much longer history of settlement, it has more to show and therefore more to preserve. The oldest surviving church in Bergen is Mariakirken (St. Mary’s Church) that replaced an earlier unfinished church on the site beginning about 1130. Though made of stone, it suffered various fires. When the Hanseatic League was a force in Bergen, Germans took over the church in the 1400s, and German-language services continued until after WWI. Today the Bergen Anglican Church holds English language services there. More modest older buildings are protected with metal or tile roofs. Old town areas of historic interest maintain their cobble streets. Roads are built with stone aggregate and seem new although roads in more rural areas are narrow to one lane with pull off points when meeting oncoming traffic. In Demark, half the population gets to work on bicycles.

Noted preservation includes wooden stavkirken so called because of their corner posts. At one time thousands existed throughout northern Europe, Norway had at least a thousand; perhaps as many as two thousand. Today 28 remain in Norway.

Though Pat and I have Norwegian ancestry, and know lite grand norske, we intended to learn more before our trip. However, that did not happen. Instead, almost everywhere we went we encountered fluent speakers of English. Even some who apologized for their English did well. Since WWII, English has been taught in schools (along with other languages). I was most surprised with the prevalence of reading material, the number of book stores, and English language material. A lot of this was the standard noted authors – but with surprises. One of the first was a title that jumped out at me: Tatt av vinden, that is – Gone with the wind. English language books included those for children and other special collections. The very large store at the Oslo International Airport had a Krim section and next to it in English a Crime section.

Thanks to English we had conversations, not only with our native tour guides, but also with airlines, car rentals, wait staff in restaurants, hotel desk clerks, bus drivers, museum attendants. When we visited the Urnes stav church, the guide answered a question in Norwegian only when it had been asked in Norwegian and then said it again in English.

We gained a different perspective on party politics because most of the countries have a parliamentary system in which the prime minister is elected by the parliament. Four major parties seemed a common number – Denmark currently has nine. Consequently no one has a majority and they have to bargain with one another if they want to accomplish anything. We don’t recognize the need for compromise, especially today.

Europeans are interested in U.S. politics, as shown in their media. Trump received a lot of coverage there. On board our dinner companions wanted to talk about this crazy guy. By accident, we sat one evening next to Robert Donaldson, who is an authority on international politics, and advises the state and defense departments. He wondered aloud with us as to issues related to one presidential candidate and whether the military would object to some of his potential orders.

Were we in Oslo twice. Once when we landed and transferred to a plane to Bergen. And at the end of the cruise when we took a train from Stockholm to Oslo for a few days before we went on to Sogndahl.

We were astounded by its airport which sprawls for a long distance, looks like a super mall and is full of convivial people all very well dressed in a business casual way and one person with a tie – me. When we came back to Oslo from Stockholm, we were in line for the next day’s big event. By sheer accident, we were in Oslo for Norway’s Constitution Day – Syttende Mai, the 17th of May. Norway.

It is the big dress up day, and now the ties are out on every man and boy. And a large portion of the celebrants wear their bunader. The biggest event is of course in Oslo. And we joined in. A group of police lead the way from the start up Karl Johans Gade to the palace. They carry flags but not guns. Everyone carries flags, especially the children who follow. Every school child from Oslo and surrounding area make up the parade, some have bands, but most shout slogans. No guns, no fire engines or tractors, no fireworks – just children taking up their sense of patriotism.

A large crowd assembles at the palace and at an appointed time the king and the royal family come out on the second floor balcony. The audience sings the national anthem – Jeg Vi Elsker dette landet/ Yes, we love this land. King Harald, as his father Olaf, and grandfather Haakon before him, waves to the crowd, the crowd waves back, cheers, and waves their flags. He and his family keep this going for the five hours it takes.

Following these festivities, people have picnics. We met Ole friends – Kari Berit from Red Wing and John Chaplin who married last summer and lived then on the peninsula south of Oslo – and went by ferry and bus to their house. His daughters and a boyfriend joined and we had the traditional fare featuring shrimp on bread slices. When we returned to our hotel, we noted that other neighbors were also having picnics.

Subsequently we flew to a more rural area, Sogndal, a community of 10,000 of whom 2,000 are students. We chose this stop because three of our ancestral families came from this area. With our rented car we made side trips into the surrounding area.

One day we went to Fjaerland which includes the National Glacier Museum. The museum is on the fringe of the Jostedalen Ice Cap, the largest glacier in continental Europe. The museum features glacier-related experiences including a multiscreen 20-minute view of the glacier as experienced by skiers, hikers, and ice-climbers. Then our crawl through a simulated ice cave under a glacier – not a comfortable feeling – and a very thorough display on Otzi, the freeze-dried man from 5300 years ago found in the Alps in September 1991.

Another reason for going to Fjaerland is that it is Norway’s Book Town. When commerce came to an end there, an entrepreneur established a used book business in 8 or 9 rehabilitated buildings, otherwise abandoned. In total there are 8 linear miles of books on display. We looked at a few.

Within Fjaerland is another community, Mundahl. Pat’s maternal grandfather’s grandmother came from this area. Brithe Mundal she was, born in 1854. After lunch at the Hotel Mundal, we went across the road to the church and its graveyard and read every stone, but found no one we could link to. Another descendant from the Mundal area is former Vice President Mondale. He has visited in the area and is very highly respected in Sogndal.

One other day we went to Balestrand which meant taking a ferry across a fjord finger. Balestrand in the late 19th and early 20th century was a noted resort for wealthy travelers of the time. Kaiser Wilhelm was an annual visitor for several years including 1913, his last. We ate in the hotel where he had stayed.

Sogndal where we had based for these few days was on the inner reach of the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord. When we left, we took a high speed ferry the length of the fjord back to Bergen in a little over four hours.

In summary, a few words about “the trip of a lifetime.” It was horribly costly which deterred me. Yet, I consented on account that it would be out of our systems. The exposure to Europe had great benefits, chiefly how patriotism is understood in Norway, how technology and the arts have replaced manufacturing, how multiple party systems have been able to work as a coalition, how multi-lingual many Europeans are – at least in metropolitan areas. And how impressive reading appears with the wide availability of bookstores and material in other outlets. Not to be forgotten, how conscious people are of history and historic preservation.


Previously posted 30 January 2017 on the Saint Olaf College Alumni Directory: Class Page 1962.(1962) where access requires registration as an Ole.