September 24, 2018
We had to be out of our apartment by 11 a.m. Our morning was full of making sure that nothing of value was going to be left behind, straightening up, running the dishwasher, packing the last of our belongings in our luggage, luggage that seemed slightly bulkier and heavier than two weeks ago. We looked up one last time at the spire of the Grønland church. Then we reversed the trip we had made only a few days earlier on the 20th: walk to the Grønland station, take the T-bahn to Oslo-S, buy extensions to our NSB travel pass, and then navigate to the correct platform for the train ride to the airport. It is easy to get confused at this last part, as Flytorget Airport Express and the NSB both run trains to the airport—but they are mutually exclusive and a ticket for one will not get you on the other.
We managed all of that and made it to the airport ahead of time to gratefully release our suitcases into the care of Icelandair. There was little to do but find some coffee and wait to board.
There is always something disorienting about these travel days, apart from the jet lag that will inevitably set in, especially at our age, afterwards. You spend a long day eighteen, twenty, maybe twenty-four in transition. You transit from the door of your hotel or apartment, through a turnstile, or two or three, from one station to another, from one gate to another, from one city to another, from one country to another.
There is a gauntlet to be run: identify yourself, present your pass, take off your shoes, your belt, your jacket, your dignity, and throw it in a bin for inspection. Then find your seat, stow your carry-on, buckle your seat belt, and wait for the person in the seat in front of you to recline their seat fully into your already cramped space. Small mercies, this trip there were no delays. We had extra leg room, gratis, on the first leg from Oslo to Keflavik Airport in Iceland. On the next leg from Keflavik to Cleveland, both pairs of us had a row of three seats to ourselves. It has been our experience that this is a rare occurrence, a luxury not to be taken lightly.
We were late getting into Keflavik. Our one-and-a-half-hour layover turned into a mad sprint through the airport trying to clear passport control and get to the gate in what had suddenly turned into forty-five minutes or less. Greg’s mind flashed back to a long night in Keflavik twenty years earlier when, traveling alone, he couldn’t get out of the airport and had to spend the night. Fortunately, none of the worst-case scenarios unfolded, and we settled into a relatively comfortable six-and-a-half-hour flight to Cleveland.
What is there to say about such flights? Usually there is nothing remarkable about them. You watch a movie or two. Drink a free drink or two. If you are lucky, they feed you something, and that’s not a given any more (neither are the free drinks). There is little to think back upon or remember. But, about halfway or more through the trip we flew in daylight, with no cloud cover, over Greenland. That glimpse out the cabin window was memorable: snow and mountains, and what looked like glaciers. We had been to the North Cape. But this was truly arctic and snow-covered. And, seen from the air, it seemed a vast almost alien expanse.
Then, back to tedium and bathroom breaks and waiting for arrival. At Cleveland we had to pass through customs. In almost thirty years of flying out of Cleveland-Hopkins Airport this was the first time we had ever cleared customs there. Usually it is the chaos at Newark. What a tangled and inefficient mess entry into our country is. Passport control, and customs, and the taking of baggage off of one belt and placing it onto another. Then, unbelievably, we had to pass through TSA to get out of the airport to baggage claim. This was a first for us, since it is usually our pleasure to undergo TSA screening to get into the airport’s guarded gates. A process that should take twenty minutes took fifty minutes instead. But, as one of us said, it could have been worse. It could have been Newark.
We rode home, reunited with our baggage, in the dark with a friendly limousine driver. After a long day in transit, this last transition, the fifty-minute drive home, seemed interminably long. It was hard to keep up conversation, to resist the urge to doze off. It felt like every other return home from a long trip. Uncomfortable and anti-climactic.
We turned up our driveway. It was raining. We unloaded our luggage in the drizzle and said goodbye to our travel partners of two weeks, Justin and Andrea. Andrea’s mother Lisa, who had been a house-sitter, was there to pick them up. They had another twenty-five minutes to go: their trip just a bit longer than ours, not quite yet over.
We went inside. Greeted a relieved and happy cat, who had been fostered at my daughter’s house for the duration. No ceilings had fallen in. No pipes had burst. No trees had broken through the roof. The mail was piled up. We were hungry and tired; but we were home. It felt, in that moment, like every other trip’s end. Both welcome and unwelcome; both familiar and strange; the last arrival to bring closure to the first departure.
We had taken a journey to a distant land. We had seen the Northern Lights and the Barents Sea. We had visited a dead queen and paid homage to a long-completed journey. We had seen and spoken of things that the four of us would share forever. And, maybe, it is that last that is the most important end, and consequence, of any journey.
For more on Casper & Gjertine’s 1932 journey back to Norway see:
Kvaløy, Ørjan, “Casper Cornelius’ dagbok fra norgesreisen sommeren 1932’’, in Ytri Halfa 2017. Ottersøy, Nærøy: Nærøy Historielag, 2017, pp. 17-26.
Rørvik, John, “Smaatræk fra Casper Cornelius’s Norges-Reise’’, in Viknaværinger hjemme i Norge og i Amerika. Minneapolis, MN: Viknalaget, 1933, pp. 174-177.