Friday, September 7, 2007

Observations of Norway

I'll try to be quick, as this is our last day before the loooong trip home, and there are things to do. I might have waited until I got home to do this, but frankly, I doubt I'll feel like it. (g)

So, here we go-- a "few" observations of Norway (combined with notes on what we did while there. . .)

First-- We left on Monday and drove back on Wednesday, so this was a whirlwind tour. ;o)

Overall impressions of Norway vs. Sweden, based on my very limited experiences of both-- Norway has the more dramatic landscapes-- the take-your-breath-away "oh, wow!" sort of thing. Sweden has a calmer, gentler beauty. It's snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and fjords vs. more gently rolling farmland and forests, interspersed with lots and lots of gorgeous lakes. In addition to being easier and more convenient to travel through (as opposed to "mountain driving"), Sweden also seems to have more to offer in the way of shopping and eating-- at least, from what I've seen. I should note that Donald said Norway is generally thought to have the spectacular views, while Sweden is thought to be superior for "culture". I don't know enough about it to comment, so I won't. ;o)

On the road--
  • Norway has quite a few traffic cameras-- more than I've seen elsewhere. They're also supposed to be pretty strict on speed limits.
  • Every so often, there are road signs inviting you (in Norwegian) to stop and sleep (by the side of the road, I think), if you're feeling very tired.
  • More tunnels than I'm used to, and longer ones, too, than I've seen in the US mountains-- but more on that later. . . ;o)
  • Some of the roads were incredibly narrow. We're talking single-lane width having to accommodate both lanes of traffic-- and to make matters worse, on one side there's a very steep drop-off. You don't meet many cars on these roads, fortunately-- or at least we didn't-- but when you do. . . My worst fear was that around the next sharp curve would come a crazy local guy going so fast that we'd crash, sending one or both cars plunging dramatically into the abyss. (g)
I took most of my photos from the car. (g) This was partially an effort to save time. (I couldn't ask Donald to pull over every time I saw something wonderful, or else we'd never get to our destination.) It was also because most of the road we traveled wasn't very well supplied with "overlook" parking. Also lacking in the hospitality department-- (on part of the road, at least) decent "facilities" (though they got better in spots), affordable fast food places, warning of "rest spots" along the road (they gave you plenty of advance warning, but neglected to tell you exactly when to turn, and as a result we sailed right by some of them, oblivious until it was too late, etc. They were pretty good about having information in English, but almost all information was in the form of info boards-- not much in the way of maps or brochures.

(Back to the bathroom thing-- It seems that in some places, it is considered a privilege to have access to a restroom. For instance, in the one fast food restaurant we visited, you had to pay to go to the toilet if you were not a customer. I guess I can understand that-- they don't want tons of people coming in just to use their bathrooms. But I've also seen this in what would ordinarily be public restrooms-- in a library, on public streets in a large city, at "natural wonder"-type attractions. It strikes me as very odd. Yes, I guess it does cost something to maintain them, but in some of these places-- the library, for instance-- that seems like something that the government would take care of. I can't help but wonder what you're to do if you're stranded without money. Do they really want you to wet yourself rather than treat you to a few squares of t.p., a bit of soap and water, and a complimentary flush? (g) Ok, enough ranting.)

In the mountains, we saw lots of rock. Rock is everywhere. Huge boulders. The country is very well off, as far as stone goes. ;o) (Sweden is flooded with rock, too, however. They're doing road work in some spots, burying cables and preparing to widen some roads. It's obvious that in many-- most?-- places, you needn't dig down deep-- if at all-- to find stone. I would love to have some of that for my garden back at home. . .(g))

There are also many many many many sheep-- not wild, but allowed to roam freely in most places. The result-- more than once, we came upon sheep in the road. The lambs were sometimes a bit skittish, but the older sheep just stay right where they are (in the middle of the road sometimes) while you maneuver around them. (g) Some of them wear bells around their necks, and the clanking seems to carry very far in the mountainside.

There were so many beautiful streams and waterfalls, but hardly any places to stop and photograph them or get closer to them. I don't know why. . . Possibly Norwegians have become too used to them and don't consider them worthwhile viewing?

We also saw--
  • A few houses with lots of gorgeous gingerbread, including one right by the roadside that was amazingly intricate-- it even had little dragon-head cut-outs!-- but was rather faded and dilapidated so that it looked rather haunted.
  • Homes with grass/sod roofs-- very interesting.
  • Many hairpin curves
  • The Swedish "ö" supplanted by the Norwegian "ø", and almost as soon as we had crossed the border, too! (g)
Of course, we also saw--
  • Mountains-- some green with trees and other vegetation, others rocky and barren, and some even capped in snow
  • Fjords-- Intense landscapes with mountains plunging steeply into sparkling water
  • Green water-- in places, the water was an exotic shade of green. It's supposed to have something to do with the minerals in the water, I think.
  • Snow-- and much more of it than I had expected to see. Donald said there must be about four inches in one place we drove through. I didn't exactly "play" in the snow, but I did get to touch it and make a few snowballs. :o) It was a very pleasant surprise to find real snow. At first, we thought we might not see any-- and then, we expected it to be icy-- not "real" snow. But as it happened, there was an early snowfall, which brings us to the next bullet point. . .
  • Rain/sleet/snow mix falling as we drove-- As it was happening, it was a bit nerve-wracking, actually. (g) We were up pretty high in the mountain tops, on Monday. The wind was fierce, blowing the rain/sleet/snow horizontally. The water below us was whipped into a frenzy by the wind-- whitecaps everywhere. We could feel the temperature falling, and the road was mostly our own-- always gives me a queasy feeling to be the only "fool" out on the road in bad weather! ;o) But then we passed by a few houses (in this inhospitable place) and saw a sturdy Norwegian and his dog out enjoying the weather (the dog was actually smiling-- a husky, we think), so I felt a bit better. (g)
What else should I mention before bringing this to a close?

We drove through the longest tunnel in the world-- 24.5 km, just over 15 miles long. The day before, we'd driven through much shorter ones-- the longest were 2 and 3 miles long, I think-- but some of those were pretty narrow-- much more claustrophobic. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if there were an earthquake while we were in those tunnels. . . Not at all likely here, I know, but I'm prone to picturing worst case scenarios.

We went through past of Oslo on our way in and came across a few crazy city drivers. Not enough time to see much else.

"And" in Norwegian is "og". It looks like something from a troll language, doesn't it? (g) No wonder, then, that in Norway we found Trollstigvegen (the Troll's Road, which is very steep and rather scary, with a warning in one place not to stop, for fear of falling rocks!) and Trollveggen (the Troll Wall, also known as the 5000 foot "Vertical Mile", the tallest vertical rock face in Europe). Something I just read online claims that "A stone dropped from the summit touches nothing until it reaches the valley floor a mile below." Believe it or not, there are some crazy people out there who actually climb this thing. While we were taking photos, we heard a crack and Donald spotted a place where snow (and/or rock) had given way, leaving a slow-seeming drift of snow from one level to another. (We got some photos of it-- not sure how they turned out, though.)

Our first night in Norway, we stayed at the Aurland Fjordhotel, in a room with an incredible view from its little balcony. The second night, we opted for a cabin at a place recommended by Jocke (and paid less than we did for the room in the hotel, for a whole cabin).

We took lots and lots of photos, which I'll get around to editing and posting *some*day. ;o)

And that'll do, I think. Now it's time to get some other things done.

Tomorrow's a *very* early morning for us, I think, to be followed by a long day of traveling. I have a feeling that by the time we reach Memphis, the only thing keeping me going will be the thought of collapsing in bed at home. ;o)

I hope you're all well at home! Looking forward to seeing you in just another couple of days!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

More retrospectives. . .

Catching up again! :o)

A couple of random (non-date-specific) notes:
  • I've been admiring the cattails that grow here and there in this area of Sweden. I don't know if they're any different from the cattails that grow at home. . .
  • Last week (or so), this part of Sweden-- and maybe all of it, for all I know-- had colder temperatures than normal for this time of year. It even got down to freezing in spots, a couple of nights. I was glad I'd packed plenty of "chilly weather clothes". Now (today, at least), the weather is a bit milder.
Saturday, Sept. 1st
  • Donald got Ingela to check out a couple of library books on Norway, and he also borrowed a few maps from Jocke (who goes to Norway on a fairly regular basis, for fishing/boating).
  • We stopped at a second-hand shop in Säffle and found a few little knick-knacks, as well as an old suitcase to fill with any extra thing we want to bring home with us. Thanks to a "CHINA" sticker on its side, we will appear to be very well traveled. ;o)
  • Saturday was a festival day for this part of Sweden. "Skördefest på Värmlandnäs"-- a "harvest feast/day/party". Several farms and other sites hosted visitors. I believe some old mills were "demonstrated"and some sheep sheared. There was lots of food and various wares were for sale. There were really too many sites to visit in one day, so we only stopped at a few places.
  • We stopped first at Jonsrönning-- the farm where Donald's father grew up (and where some of Donald's family still live, including his farmor and one of his uncles). The folks there sell raise lots of plants all year, which they sell at this festival, so that was the major attraction at that stop. There were many attractive plants-- lots of succulents. I saw a few I wouldn't have minded taking home, myself, but of course that wasn't possible. Someone was grilling burgers, so we had lunch there.
  • As we were leaving Jonsrönning, Donald returned a missed call and arranged to meet up with his parents and Thorbjörn at another place. I'm not sure what the place was. A dairy farm, maybe? In any case, there were lots of cows. (g) Some of them were looking at us with wild from windows, probably wondering why their usually quiet spot was suddenly overrun with strangers. (If cows are capable of that much thought... ;o)) Let's see. . . what else was there? Lots of locally grown potatoes for sale. . . Tiger the Milko cat was there-- in the flesh, er, fur-- much to the delight of a few kids. A few vintage tractors were on display, including an old John Deere that seemed to be the main attraction. ;o) At one point, it drove round and round in a circle, all by itself. (With no-one driving it, I mean. (g) ) There were also other booths and things I didn't see very well, because we were really just using this spot as a place to meet.
  • Finally, we went to another farm where you could buy handmade jewelry, hand/loom-woven fabrics (tablecloths, maybe rugs...), fresh vegetables, local honey and the like, and more food. It was time for our second lunch. ;o) The meal focused around an unusual turkey recipe. I think the turkey (which was chopped into small bits) was smoked and marinated, but I'm not sure. It tasted kind of like taco seasoning, but not quite the same. . . Not "Mexican", really. Anyway, it was unlike any turkey I'd ever eaten before. The vegetables weren't different from the vegetables we eat at home and so aren't worth describing ;o) but the nacho chips were unusual. They tasted kind of like the white cheddar-flavored chips you can get at home, but I'd never seen that flavor of nachos before. Oh! And I was amused to find that the brand of cola they served was RC Cola! (A nice, homey blast from the past. (g))
  • The weather for the day was supposed to be mild and pleasant. It started out that way, but was steadily deteriorating, growing cloudy, windy, and chilly. While we stood in line for our turkey meal, scattered drops of rain began to fall, and by the time we sat under an open tent to eat, the wind was threatening to tear off the tarp from its frame. Fortunately, we managed to finish eating without being blown away entirely. ;o)
  • We stopped by Sandmon on our way back to Säffle to borrow a few things for the trip to Norway-- an ice chest, warmer coats, gloves, hats.
Sunday, Sept. 2nd
  • The main event of the day was going to a christening for the new baby of one of Donald's cousins. (The cousin is Susanne-- the new baby is Louise.) It was a pretty long drive, so we carpooled with Ingela and Thorbjörn. (Donald's parents and mormor-- because this is her side of the family-- rode in another car.)
  • I don't know the name of the church-- and Donald's not here to ask-- but it was up on a fairly high hill-- windswept and dramatic on that cloudy day.
  • This was my first time (that I can recall) to witness a Lutheran church service. (I'm not sure how much Lutheran churches vary, between those in Sweden and those in the US. . .)
    • I think the "sermon" was shortened to make way for a death announcement and the christening. (If not, then the sermons in Sweden must be very, very short.)
    • As I expected, from what I've heard from Donald on the subject, I found the format much more formal and structured than what I experienced in a Baptist church. There are texts that the minister (or whatever the proper word would be) reads, and there are prescribed answers that the congregation speaks in response. The hymnals dictate at what points the congregation should stand. Sometimes you stand for only portions of a song, though not in any of those selected for this service.
    • There was also much more ornamentation-- painted ceilings, an organ (though it remained silent while a pianist played the hymns), a special pulpit in the corner of the church (raised slightly above the pews), etc.
    • The pews were quite narrow, with slanted slats of wood for foot rests just above the floor-- and with little gates at the aisles.
    • On our side of the church, right in front of us, was a painted wooden sculpture of Mary holding baby Jesus on her lap, with her feet on what looked like a small dragon (representing Satan or evil in general, I imagine). Later, Donald read that it dates back to some very distant time. The 1500s? Or was it even the 1300s? I can't remember. Either way, wow!
  • The christening was much as I expect christenings usually are, though it's the only one I've been to. Louise wore a long gown with many names embroidered on it in blue and pink-- a family gown with the names of the babies who've been christened in it.
  • There was a reception afterwards with "sandwich cakes" ("cakes" made of layers of bread and various fillings, which are cut into slices for serving) and dessert cake with raspberry (?) filling, etc.
  • When we got back to Säffle, we stopped to see Jocke's new boathouse and boat. The boat was still on land, but we were able to climb up and take the tour. It was shipped to Säffle from Lake Michigan. As an older model (though in very good condition), it was a bargain by Swedish standards, even after the expenses of shipping it here.
And that'll have to do for now. Time for lunch!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Back in Sweden!

Just a quick note to let you know that we got back to Säffle about half an hour ago. :o)

I'll probably be writing some sort of post and/or putting up more photos tomorrow. Until then, hope you're all well!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

May be out of contact soon. . .

I may have a chance for another post after this, but just in case. . .

We're planning to go into Norway for a few days (not sure exactly how many) next week-- probably starting Monday (unless something changes). While we're there, I may not be able to update this blog. We'll just have to see. (I'll try to finish updating photos tomorrow, though, so you might want to check there.) I'll post here again once we're back in Säffle, if no sooner.

Family-- if you need to get in touch with us, Donald's family should be able to reach us.

Well, better get some sleep!
I hope everyone's doing well! Give the puppies a hug for me! ;o)