Viknavaeringer: At Home in Norway and America

In previous blog entries we chronicled OUR NORWEGIAN SAGA—a trip taken in September 2018 that began in Bergen, continued to Kirkenes in the far north, and ended in Oslo. The focal point of the journey was a Hurtigruten cruise along Norway’s magnificent western and northern coasts. On this unforgettable cruise we visited many of the same sites that Joan’s immigrant great-grandparents, Casper and Gjertine Cornelius, had visited on their own memorable return to Norway in 1932, a trip they made after forging a full life of 45 years in America. (See Our Norwegian Saga: Arrivals and Departures)

A published account of Casper and Gjertine’s trip by John Rørvik entitled “Smaatræk fra Casper Cornelius’s Norges-Reise’’ (in Viknaværinger hjemme i Norge og i Amerika. Minneapolis, MN: Viknalaget, 1933, pp. 174-177) was written in Norwegian, and, thus hidden from those of us who know little of the language. The book in which this article appeared was published by the Viknalaget, a Norwegian-American bygdelag society formed in Minneapolis on February 8, 1924, comprised of members who had emigrated from Vikna, as well as their descendants. (Vikna was a former municipality in Trøndelag county that encompassed some 6,000 islands off the northwestern coast of Norway.) The Viknalaget’s first meeting, in fact, was held at Casper and Gjertine’s home at 2934 North Colfax Avenue in Minneapolis.

Casper’s childhood friend, John M. Johnson (Johan Michal Johannsen), accompanied them on the journey. (For more on John Johnson see our blog post: The John Johnson Cot)

Below, Greg has translated the Norwegian text of the article, opening the door to a greater understanding of the journey of remembrance that Casper and Gjertine took so many years ago.

See the article in the original Norwegian: Smaatræk fra Casper Cornelius’s Norges-Reise.


At Home in Norway and America




The Casper Cornelius home, where the Viknalaget’s first meeting was held.

The Casper Cornelius home, where the Viknalaget’s first meeting was held.

Highlights of Casper Cornelius’s Trip to Norway

At the Viknalaget meeting on October 7, 1932, our former secretary, Casper Cornelius, who, along with his wife and childhood friend, John M. Johnsen, from Waldwin, Wis.,[*] had just returned from a trip to Norway, was greeted with a welcome never before seen in our laget. [2] Never have the Viknavaeringer of the twin cities come out in such strength. Everyone was excited to hear news from Norway and Vikna and from the old friends and loved ones over there. And old Casper was the man who could tell the tale.

On May 28 Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius, along with Mr. Johnsen, left New York on the Norwegian American Line steamship “Stavangerfjord,” and after a pleasant journey they arrived in Norway at the most delightful time of the year. They got to see our old homeland decked out in its most wonderful finery. We shall not take the time and space here to recount all the experiences Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius had on the voyage, but only touch upon the highlights, so to speak. In addition to greeting relatives and friends on Vikna, they visited many other places during the voyage, greeting those people whose relatives and friends they had come in contact with during their forty-six year stay in America. Upon arriving in Oslo, they were met by Professor O. B. Grimley, currently employed at the Norwegian American Line’s Oslo office. They spent a few days with Mr. and Mrs. Grimley in their cozy villa at Stabek on the outskirts of Oslo. During this time, they had the opportunity to visit many of the sights in the capital, accompanied by their hospitable host and his wife. During this time, they also had the opportunity to visit the builder Axel Bjørnstad in his office at the St. Olaf Hotel. Mr. Bjørnstad is a brother of Mrs. John Hendriksen of Minneapolis. He has the honor of having built the world’s northernmost church on Svalbard. They then traveled north to Trondheim. There they met many people well known to us. Among these were head teacher Karl Pettersen (who taught at Vikna more than 50 years ago) and teacher Julius Bolling with his wife and daughter. They also met Kaja Pettersen, a cousin of Miss Laura Eng in Minneapolis, as well as the tailor Ulsund (also a Viknavaeringer). Then they stopped and visited my (the author’s) two sisters, Miss Henny Johansen and Mrs. Marie Risvik; these two are residing in Trondheim, where they have a small sewing business. All of these friends and family, both in Oslo and Trondheim, sent greetings to the Viknalaget, as well as to their relatives and friends in this country.

Then their journey continued on to Vikna, the destination that mattered the most to them. What feelings must have stirred in their breasts when they saw those familiar places again? Mr. Cornelius did not speak much of it, but it must have seemed to him as if he had just woken up from a long slumber and found everything changed. People who were relatively young when he left Norway forty-six years ago were now almost all dead and gone. And of those who were his age, there were just a few remaining. However, the islands, islets, and seaweed-strewn beaches were still the same as they were before. The infinite sea, which encircled them like a wreath, rolled its massive foam-topped waves across the shore and sent foamy spray high as it broke onto the rocky coast of Ytter Vikna. At old Lysøviken the waves were probably not that loud now in the summertime. But he had probably heard enough of that familiar sound to stir his memories. It was at Lysøviken that his father closed his eyes for the last time about sixty or seventy years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius used their time well on Vikna. They went from place to place talking to people and brought greetings from relatives and friends here in Minneapolis. We are very grateful to them for that.

“We had a great time on Vikna,” said Casper. “The people were very accommodating to us. The most striking virtues of the people there were hospitality and cleanliness.” (Hence, we can conclude that they had not become more acquainted with the catch that Fru Guru brought in of an evening, as described by the poet Petter Dass in “Nordland’s Trumpet.”)

After this short stay on Vikna, they traveled south again to embark on a trip to the North Cape on the “Stavangerfjord.”

It was during this trip that Mr. Cornelius had an interesting experience. He was able to tell an old story about Hestmunk Kallen, Lekkea Møia, and the Torghatten through the microphone of the ship’s radio station. [3] He had heard this tale when he was just a young boy, but despite the years he remembered it well. It was also during this tour that they had an experience that many of our Norwegian-born men and women have longed for over the years — the sight of the glorious midnight sun casting its golden gleam over land and sea. It seemed as if day was enshrouded in the peace of night. Hundreds of the ship’s passengers, people from all over the world, stood on the deck at the midnight hour, watching this enchanting sight as music echoed across the still sea. Imagine what a moment that was! We understand our friend Casper Cornelius very well when he says the memory of that night will never fade as long as he lives. During the Nordland trip they visited many locations, including Tromsø, where they visited the splendid museum there. They also went to Hammerfest, among other places.

After returning to Oslo on the “Stavangerfjord” they took the train north to Trondheim, where on this occasion they visited Johannes Horsfjord and his family in their home on Ladehammeren mountain. [4] Then they traveled on to Lekka, where they visited relatives and friends of Mrs. Cornelius. They attended a church service in the church where she was a member before she was married. They also visited Lars Beniamensen Kvalø. It was there at his farm that a little girl, Svanhild Hansen from Hortavær, was abducted by an eagle earlier that summer. After visiting everyone they knew on Lekka and in the surrounding area, they made a trip to Hortavær, where Mrs. Cornelius was born. Hortavær is a group of 365 islands, with a population of approximately 100. There is a chapel there built by an Englishman named Arnestad. Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius had a wonderful time among the fisher folk out there on Hortavær.

Finally they made a return trip to Vikna, where this time they visited Pastor A. Fikkan, Lensmann [5] A. Østnes, and Karl Severeide, as well as our old school teacher Jørginus Ofstad. They also gave their regards to Andreas Benjamensen, Hans Farnes, our friend Paul Woxeng, and many more, including my own mother and siblings in Rørvik.

Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius were well pleased with their journey to Norway. Indeed, happy are those who can make such a trip.

Casper Cornelius arrived in New York on September 22 after a pleasant return voyage across the ocean. At the Viknalaget meeting he offered greetings from Mr. and Mrs. Grimley, as well as from the Oslo Viknalaget. We are pleased to hear that they have a chapter there. We are also delighted that they have a Viknaværinger publication like we do. By the way, wonder if that Grimley fellow and his wife have anything to do with that! We know how interested they were in our magazine when they were living here in Minneapolis. (Mr. Grimley was our magazine’s first editor.)

We wish the Viknaværinger in Oslo good luck with their chapter. We hope that in the future Viknaværinger in Minneapolis and Oslo will become better acquainted.

[*] John M. Johnsen died on January 20, 1933, after an operation to treat a stomach condition.



The following excerpt provides some context for the publication in which the excerpt above appears. It is taken from Jacob Hodnefield’s Norwegian-American Bygdelags and their Publications, Norwegian-American Historical Association, 18: 163-222.

VIKNALAGET. In the summer of 1913 John W. Johnson of Baldwin, Wisconsin, wrote an article in Decorah-posten, appealing to immigrants from Vikna, Norway, to send a memorial gift to the old country, since May 17 of that year would be the centennial of the Norwegian constitution. A total of 2,834 kroner was collected at that time, but additions continued for a number of years. Out of this co-operation, a bygdelag came into being. The first meeting for organization purposes was held in Minneapolis February 8, 1924, at which 25 were present. A business meeting was held in Minneapolis March 7, 1924, at which a constitution was adopted. Officers elected were H. H. Ockwig, president; Adolf Larsen, vice-president; Casper Cornelius, secretary; John Caspersen, treasurer. Other founders were John M. Johnson, Alfred Berg, Jørgen Berg, Paul Woxeng, Arnold Jakobsen, Paul Sørø, and Edvard Hustad.

It was decided to hold meetings in Minneapolis the first Friday of each month, thus making the organization essentially a Minneapolis concern. There is generally a Christmas party and banquet and a summer picnic. Speeches, music, films, and so forth have featured the programs. The field of interest of the society was to be the immigrants from Vikna, Norway, their welfare in this country, the preservation of the Norwegian heritage through music, song, literature, art, and folklore, co-operation with the land of the fathers, and the growth and promotion of the bygdelag movement.

Three publications have been issued by Viknalaget. The first was Viknaværingens aarbok for 1927-1928 (Minneapolis, 1928). It has a foreword by John Rørvik and miscellaneous contents, including recollections of fishing enterprises, reminiscences of Christmas, items from Norway, and minor sketches. A second publication was Address Book of Viknaværinger in America (Minneapolis, 1929).

The third is Viknaværinger i Amerika, historiske og biografiske skildringer, by John Rørvik and Paul Woxeng (Minneapolis, 1933). There is a foreword by John Rørvik; emigrants from our district, by John Rørvik; the saga of Viknalaget; list of donors of the gift to the home district; nature, history, and community life at Vikna, by Paul Woxeng; the saga of emigration; [210] emigration to America, by John Rørvik; Norwegians in America; activities of the bygdelags; and miscellaneous sketches, verse, and greetings.


[1] In Northern Norway the suffix  –vaeringer is added to place names to denote people from that place. Thus, Viknavaeringer = [those from Vikna].

[2] The viknalaget is a regional example of the Norwegian-American bygdelag, a society whose members come from the same community. For more on these quintessential Norwegian-American Associations see Jacob Hodnefield’s Norwegian-American Bygdelags and their Publications, Norwegian-American Historical Association, 18: 163-222.  (

[3] Hestmunk is a reference to Hestmannen [the Horseman]. Kallen refers to the king Vågekallen and Lekkea Møia refers to Lekamøya, the Maiden of Leka, characters in a magical tale about how the granite mountain Torghatten (on the island of Torget in Brønnøy) came to have a hole all the way through it.

[4] The Ladehammeren is a small mountain near Trondheim on the Lade peninsula in Trøndelag County.

[5] In modern Norway a local police officer much like a county sheriff.

Our Norwegian Saga: Leaving Bergen

September 14, 2018

 When we first made plans to book our Hurtigruten cruise, it had dawned on Joan that our itinerary reminded her of a trip up the Norwegian coast that had been taken by her great-grandparents. In 1932 Casper and Gjertine Cornelius, who had emigrated from Norway in 1887, returned to their native home for a three-month visit after a forty-five-year absence. Joan had heard about this trip as a child. It was an event that held some significance for the family and was discussed long after her great-grandparents themselves had passed away in the 1940’s. Casper and Gjertine had returned to a homeland they had left behind with great sadness and regret. They had been forced by economic circumstances to try their luck in a strange, foreign land. This belated homecoming must have been bittersweet. Joan actually never knew (or remembered) that a travelogue from this 1932 trip existed and came across the treasure only a few years ago in a box of old photos and papers inherited from her parents. She discovered a twenty-seven-page journal entitled Norges Reise i 1932 [Norwegian Journey, 1932]. Great-Grandfather Casper’s original travelogue was in Norwegian, the language he was most comfortable speaking and writing, even after forty-five years in America. What Joan had actually found was not Casper’s original, but a translation into English by her grandfather Martin. If the Norwegian original still exists, we do not know where it is or who may have it. Among the many activities Joan’s great-grandparents undertook during their three-month stay in Norway was a trip on the SS Stavangerfjord that took them up the Norwegian coast to the North Cape. For some reason she remembered a small detail from the journal, that her great-grandparents had left Bergen at 8 p.m. to journey up the coast to the Nordkapp. Our itinerary on the MS Spitsbergen had us scheduled to leave Bergen at 8 p.m. as well. Could her great-grandparents have, coincidentally, also taken a Hurtigruten cruise?

S.S. Stavangerfjord Cruise Brochure, Norwegian American Line

Ebay solved the mystery for us quickly when we located and subsequently purchased a 1930’s brochure for a “Midnight Sun Cruise”:

Visit Spitzbergen, Its Arctic Fjords, North Cape, and the Glorious Fjords of Norway on SS ‘Stavangerfjord’ of the Norwegian American Line.

The brochure promised tourists a journey “with Norsemen, the Pioneers of the North”—as if further enticement were needed! So, no, it was not a Hurtigruten voyage, but a similar journey with many of the same ports of call. And so, it was today, September 14th, that we began tracing the northern part of the coastal voyage that Joan’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother had embarked upon in 1932. Today’s voyage was both a gift to our traveling companions, son Justin and daughter-in-law Andrea, but also, for us, a memento mori, a reflection on mortality and the passage of time. Eighty-six years had passed since Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa completed their voyage, but it will be remembered still in the voyage we embarked upon today.

Bergen didn’t seem to want to let us go. After we left the Hanseatic Museum in Bergen, it was still raining katter og hunder. We were soon soaked to the bone during our walk from the Bryggen waterfront to the Hurtigruten terminal, fighting the wind and driving rain with our umbrellas and weather gear, none of which seemed up to the daunting task.

We arrived, eventually, at our destination dripping and squelching. We camped out at the Hurtigruten terminal lounge for a short while, meeting up with our companions, who had, wisely, remained warm and dry in a café. Boarding at 4 p.m., we quickly arranged ourselves in the aft lounge—locating hot coffee and tea and finding out, much to our delight, that we had been upgraded to “select” status. We struck up a conversation with a pair of couples from Minnesota, all with Scandinavian heritage, and compared ancestral notes. Joan of course, as always, was the most Scandinavian in this transient group of adventurers. These were ephemeral travel friends, easily made, often soon forgotten, a phenomenon not uncommon on any trip. Sadly, we have already misplaced their names.

“Left Bergen 8 PM—(No rain).” Photograph by Casper Cornelius, 1932

When we went to our cabin at 6 p.m., a pleasant surprise awaited us. It was roomy, with a queen size bed, fluffy duvet, and two gigantic pillows fit for storm giants. There was more room in the cabin than in some hotels we’ve occupied recently (Birger Jarl in Stockholm, we’re talking about you). Rested and refreshed, we headed to the ship’s dining room. At the huge buffet there was more seafood than one could imagine. But this, on further thought, should have been of no surprise on this most quintessential of Norwegian coastal cruises. Our small family group found a viewing lounge and watched the MS Spitsbergen, our home for the next week, pull out of the Bergen harbor and begin its voyage up the Norwegian coast. It was 8 p.m., the same hour that Joan’s great-grandparents, Casper and Gjertine, had left Bergen on July 10, 1932, to begin their coastal adventure. Only unlike us, Bergen had favored them with good weather. From reading Casper’s journal, we were pretty sure he took lots of photographs, and yet only three survived among the ephemera that Joan had inherited. One was of their departure from Bergen. The first of our own coastal adventure photographs was snapped. A sliver of bright Norwegian moon appeared low in the sky. Gray storm clouds lowered. The sun played a brief game of hide and seek with them. The tangible quality of the light—the intense emotion of this indescribable experience—washed over us.

Leaving Bergen, 2018

Afterwards we ventured onto the open upper deck as night descended, peering into the dark ahead, facing into the wind, leaning into tomorrow as eagerly as we could. Finally, a long day of waiting, walking, and wetness had worn us down. A deep, but satisfying weariness descended quickly. We barely made it through our showers and bedtime rituals before throwing ourselves into starched white comfort—while the MS Spitsbergen sailed steadily northward toward tomorrow’s waiting adventure.



Our Norwegian Saga: Highs and Lows

September 13, 2018 

One place we hadn’t visited when we were last in Bergen was the Fløyfjellet, the peak of one of the mountains overlooking Bergen, Fløyen. The mountain top is a popular destination, with wooded areas, numerous hiking trails, an historic restaurant, and, as a bonus, a small herd of Norwegian goats. While it is possible to hike the one thousand three hundred and ninety-four feet to the flat wooded crest, many locals and tourists use the Fløibanen, an electric cable funicular, instead. After a walk (yes, still in the rain!) to the station at Vetrlidsallmenningen on the eastern side of the city center, we produced our tickets, two adults and two seniors—the senior tickets a reminder of the years since our last visit when we were still just “adults”—and rode smoothly to the upper station.

The view from the Fløyfjellet was breathtaking, with almost all of the Bergen City Center below us. We could see the Bryggen and a portion of the eastern Bergenhus neighborhood with its historic fortress and churches. The Nordnes peninsula, where our apartment was located, jutted out between the Vågen harbor and the Puddefjorden to the west. We could view the Store Lungegårdsvannet, the large bay at the southern end of the fjord, separating the city center from the southern suburbs. Clearly visible across the fjord, the residential area of Laksevåg, blanketed the side of the Damsgårdsfjellet mountain to the west. The Torgalmenningen, the city’s central square, and the blue octagon of the Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a small lake, dominated the center of the view.

View from the Fløyfjellet, 2018

After posing for the obligatory photographs, embracing one another with the city as a colorful expansive backdrop—including one with Justin standing on a rock wall as if poised to leap out over the city—we greeted the resident goats, the Fløyenguttene, also affectionately called the “Fløyen Boys.”

These Norwegian cashmere goats live on Mount Fløyen most of the year. They winter over on nearby Askøy island with another herd. The animals, all named, keep the vegetation under control, while also captivating animal-loving visitors. We took as many pictures of the goats as we did of the scenery. For the record, their names are Festus Gilde, Småen, Elvis, Sita, Snøfrisk, Alf, Boots, Flekken, and Obama. You are held in high regard in Norway if a goat is named after you, Barack.

The Fløyen Boys, 2018

The rain, which had paused for a half hour or so, began again. We hoisted our umbrellas, put rain covers on our backpacks, and took a short hike in the Norwegian woods. It was quiet and peaceful on this part of the mountain, away from the rest of the tourists. No one else had ventured out this far in the rain. In some cool verdant spots among the trees, one could imagine an earlier, wilder time, when the city was smaller and more distant, or even gone altogether. It was a reminder that in Norway the natural landscape—mountain, cliff and crag; waterfall, stream, and fjord; forest, wood, and tundra—is never all that far away.

After rejoining the milling throng, we rode back down the mountain. At some point we had small fish cakes as a snack in the fisketorget. It was still raining and getting windy. Our tight-knit group of four split up for the remainder of the afternoon. Justin and Andrea decided to visit the Hanseatic Museum in the Bryggen. We walked further down, out past the row of colorful buildings deeper into the Bergenhus neighborhood, partly seeking out a view of the fortress there, but mostly to visit Bergen’s World War II resistance museum.

The museum, run by the Norwegian military, has several fascinating displays and exhibitions, but we had come to learn more about the Norwegian Resistance to German occupation between 1940 and 1945 in Bergen and Norway as a whole. Why, on such a short visit to such a beautiful city, would we spend any time here?  We had joyfully traipsed through the Bryggen for souvenirs, happily traveled to Troldhaugen for music, and ridden a funicular to a mountaintop for a stunning panorama. What would bring us to stand in front of this dark narrative of five years in Norwegian history?

There is no simple answer to this question, but the roots of it lie in Joan’s relationship to her beloved grandfather Martin. Although Martin had come to America as a child, he spoke and read Norwegian and was deeply interested in his home country. When war and occupation came to Norway, he consumed every detail of news he could uncover about developments there, from newspapers, magazines, and private correspondence. He kept diaries, accumulated clippings, and no doubt tracked the movements of troops and resistance activities on some map. Perhaps he did this, painstakingly, at his desk, the one that now sits in Joan’s own study.

He quite effectively communicated his deep love of Norway and his Norwegian heritage to Joan, and while she probably didn’t really understand the significance of the occupation and resistance at the time, this early emotional attachment formed the basis of her lifelong interest in Norway and all things Norwegian. In later years, especially the last twenty or so, this would grow into a more genuine understanding of her heritage and, specifically, why the occupation was so traumatic for the Norwegians.

This is not the venue to examine all of what that occupation meant, and why resistance was an almost cultural imperative. Freedom, independence, sovereignty: the Norwegian people had fought for these for centuries at different times and with different foes. For reasons of history, and, more likely of deep-seated national character, the Norwegians were never going to give in. Not to the Swedes, the Danes, or the Germans.

In occupied Norway the symbol for defiance of Hitler’s Nazis was an H crossed by the figure 7 (–evacuation-day)

As Halvdan Koht, foreign minister at the time of the invasion put it, when rejecting the Nazi demand for submission, “Vi gir oss ikke frivillig, kampen er allerede i gang.” [“We will not submit voluntarily; the struggle is already underway.”]

This great national trauma is not very far from the surface of Norwegian consciousness; it ranks up there with the remnant wounds inflicted by the great emigrations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Between 1825 and 1925 Norway lost almost a third of its population, mostly to the United States, Joan’s forebears among them.

Justin, as is often his way, captured the essence of it in a few words. “You know…,” speaking to his mother about the occupation later, “it really wasn’t all that long ago.” No, it wasn’t, especially not in Norway. And, Norwegians, well, put simply—they don’t forget. They don’t forget important things. Some things they will never forget at all.

We celebrated our last day in Bergen with dinner, a treat from Justin and Andrea, at a tapas restaurant near our apartment. We recalled the time we spent with Justin in Barcelona—pre-Andrea days—when we together sampled the tapas of that marvelous city. We laughed, sampled the delicacies, looking forward to the exciting journey that was opening up before us tomorrow. We basked in the warmth of family ties; we reveled in our freedom from the cares of work and obligation; we were happy in one another’s presence. All of this was made all the more precious by today’s reminder at the Resistance Museum of how fleeting it all can be. Treasure these small things; keep them close. Bekjempe tann og spiker—fight tooth and nail— for them if they are threatened. That’s the Norwegian way.

Our Norwegian Saga: Troldhaugen in the Rain

September 12, 2018

Today we planned to visit Troldhaugen, the home of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and his wife Nina when they resided in Norway—mostly during the summers. The home was completed in 1885, designed by Grieg’s cousin Schak Bull, and the Grieg family lived there in pastoral comfort until Edvard’s death in 1907.

Grieg had long been one of Joan favorite composers. She literally learned about Wedding Day at Troldhaugen and In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt at her Grandfather Martin’s knee. She can recall listening to this wonderful music at Christmas in her grandparents’ apartment in Gary, Indiana. But, she also confesses that Grandpa played less serious fare, specifically Yogi Yorgesson’s “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.” This song never failed to produce peals of laughter from the three Nelson grandchildren.

As she grew older, her interest in Grieg deepened. When she started to learn to play the piano at the age of eight, it was probably inevitable that she would want to master the music she was growing up with—Christmas and grandparents are a powerful combination, imbuing the music with a deep emotional appeal. Her piano teacher, Catherine Dosen, realizing that practice might be promoted by choosing music her student wanted to play, gave Joan the sheet music to Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Then, later, Miss Dosen gave her two volumes of selected Grieg compositions.

Greg learned to appreciate Grieg by listening to Joan play, first on the modest spinet in the Nelson’s Pittsburgh home, and then, later, on the baby grand piano inherited from Grandfather and Grandmother Cornelius. This piano had, undoubtedly, also had years of Grieg’s music played upon it by their daughter, Joan’s Aunt Alice, who was herself an accomplished organist and pianist.

Thus, in 2003 when Greg and Joan made their first visit to Norway and Bergen, a visit to Troldhaugen was a major priority. They remember being struck by the tranquility of the modest house and its grounds—the many tourists notwithstanding. The house perches on the crest of a small hill on the steep wooded shores of Nordås Lake. There is a small composer’s hut, rustic and quiet, right on the water, down a steep path on one side of the house. On the other side, a longer path leads to a small jetty. Set into the rock face of the exposed hillside are Edvard and Nina’s tombs. Greg took a picture there on the jetty in 2003 of Joan sitting by the water. It was one of those photographs one sometimes takes, that happens, by design or random chance, to capture the essence of a place—and of a woman, no longer a girl—who has finally been to Troldhaugen.

Joan at Troldhaugen, 2003

Today, as in 2003, we walked down to the harbor to board a bus to take us the few miles outside of Bergen, up into the hills, where Troldhaugen is located. Unlike our previous visit, this time it was raining, as it had been since we arrived in Norway. We walked the short quarter of a mile to the hilltop.

Our tickets included a tour of the house—first floor only—as it had last time, but unlike our previous visit, the four of us were also going to be attending a short concert of Grieg’s piano pieces in the intimate Troldsalen concert hall. The house tour came first; one half of the busload was given a docent and moved through the doorway into a small anteroom, a “memory room,” where there were photographs and memorabilia of friends and family and fame. The interior rooms, a dining room and a parlor, were not at all museum-like, but evoked the feeling that at any moment Edvard and Nina might enter to make themselves at home. Although the rooms had their share of elegant and expensive items, there was also ample evidence of Edvard’s lifelong appreciation for traditional Norway—the folk culture he celebrated in much of his music. Here, on floor and table, were the colorful geometric patterns of Norwegian handwoven textiles. There, on a sideboard, a painted bowl decorated with rosemåling and an ale tankard, or kjenge, in the shape of a dragon. The parlor held Grieg’s 1892 Steinway—playable still. It was paired with a rustic Norwegian bench. If only we were alone, with no tourist cohort around us, Joan could play. In Grieg’s home, on Grieg’s piano. In Troldhaugen.

The Piano at Troldhaugen, 2018

But today it was for someone else to play. Thormod Rønning Kvam, a well-regarded young pianist offered a program in the Troldsalen called Selected Lyric Pieces. He played; he seemed entranced, absorbed in the music—perhaps amazed that he was here at all, in this hall, playing this music. He played in the sudden unexpected sunlight, in front of the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that thrust out the end of the hall like the prow of a ship, opening onto a light-splashed view of the composer’s rustic hut and the dappled lake.

After the last note died away, and the well-deserved applause given, we had a few moments to ramble the grounds. We peered into the composer’s hide-away on the lake shore; we imagined him creating Hjemveh (Homesickness), one of Joan’s favorite pieces, one hand on the piano, and another holding a pen to scribe the notes.

We tried to recreate the photograph we took in 2003, but the rain had started again, and the rocky shoreline between the path and jetty was slick. We are older now, frailer, a bit more cautious. We found a less dangerous vista, and Joan posed there. Justin and Andrea went out to the end of the jetty and captured a new memory in the same place that we had made an older one. It seemed natural and right. Like passing something on while letting something go. Something like writing your last song, rising up from the piano, and letting someone else sit down to play it.

A New Memory: Justin and Andrea at Troldhaugen, 2018




Our Norwegian Saga: Bryggen

September 11, 2018

Rising late, feeling somewhat more refreshed and human than after the transatlantic trek that had occupied the previous two days, we gave ourselves some freedom to roam. We had nothing to do today in Bergen but explore the harbor area. The only downside? It was raining—again.

Fisketorget in Bergen, 2003

In 2003 we had wandered these same streets in a bit more sunshine: visited the shops in the colorful old Hanseatic buildings along the harbor, wandered through the fisketorget (fish market), and even visited the modern multi-level indoor mall, the Galeriet, nearby. A few of the details had changed. There were some new stores, some new restaurants but, by and large, this part of Bergen seemed and felt much the same. Perhaps visiting a city that is almost a thousand years old, after the passage of only fifteen years, isn’t enough time to notice any dramatic difference, barring war or pestilence or some other great upheaval.

The Bryggen was our main attraction for the day, a long set of Hanseatic commercial buildings lining the Bergen docks on the eastern side of the Vågen harbor. For almost four hundred years, the German merchants in control of the Hanseatic league conducted a booming trade from these distinctive buildings. Today, there is still trade—as many of the buildings are now home to numerous shops selling a wide array of Norwegian-made, or at least, Norwegian-themed items. There are also museums and restaurants to serve the cultural and culinary interests of the steady cavalcade of tourists trooping along the dock.

Skinfell Sheepskin Blanket, A Shop in the Bryggen, 2018

Today we were part of that throng of tourists, looking for gifts and mementos, hoping to stumble, maybe, upon some treasure to marvel over—like the skinnfell, a block-printed sheepskin blanket, that we saw in a store selling traditional crafts. We knew about skinnfells because Joan’s great-grandmother had brought one with her from Norway when she first came to America. Though the fate of Great-Grandmother’s skinnfell is unknown, we have become admirers of this remarkable Norwegian folk art. Although we certainly coveted it, we didn’t bother asking about the undoubtedly astronomical price. There was no point.

In addition to the usual souvenir haunts, we found a stone carver and his array of Norwegian minerals. There was a shop filled with fishing tackle, camping gear, and some Norwegian-made knives by Helle and Brusletto. There was an art gallery and a store with wood carvings. There was more than enough to see and do to consume most of the day. Like many who had come before us, we were participating in the commerce that had been the lifeblood of this city for centuries.

We continued to dodge the rain. For the record, it is hard to shop seriously with umbrellas. Do you carry them dripping into each store? Do you hold them with one hand and shop with the other? Do you lay them on the floor by the shop door and hope they are still there when you exit, and have not escaped, protecting some other shopper?

We finished the day early, wet and still a bit tired. We spent some time simply relaxing and sampling our grocery finds, among them Norwegian beer and cider, resting up for a more crowded day tomorrow. This had been a good day, an auspicious, if somewhat damp, start. We were glad, after all, as Andrea had enthusiastically declared upon our arrival, to be “in Norway.”

Joan and Greg with the Bryggen in the Background, Bergen, 2018


Our Norwegian Saga: Arrivals and Departures

From September 9, 2018 through September 24, 2018 we kept a daily journal to chronicle a trip to Norway we took with our son, Justin, and daughter-in-law, Andrea. This was, for reasons you will discover, going to be a very special trip: not just because we were traveling with loved ones, but because we were also recreating a journey made by family members who had preceded us some eighty-six years before. Today’s blog begins the tale of Our Norwegian Saga.

September 9-10, 2018

Today we departed, the four of us, Joan, Greg, Justin (our son), and Andrea (our daughter-in-law), for two weeks in Norway. The centerpiece of our visit was a cruise of the western and northern coasts of Norway on the MS Spitsbergen, a vessel of the Hurtigruten Line. On a seven-day tour we anticipated stopping at three dozen ports of call, beginning in Bergen in Hordaland, and ending in Kirkenes, in the far north of Finnmark.

We had first heard about the Hurtigruten coastal cruises in 2003, during a previous trip to Norway. This was an odyssey that began in Bergen, wove through the fjord country to Nordfjordeid, and then went overland to Trondheim—all by bus. From that northern base we had forayed as far north as Namsos and Rørvik, on the eastern side of the Vikna archipelago, by a combination of bus and ferry.  During that visit we had been told that the Hurtigruten coastal voyage was a truly memorable experience, a cruise considered by some as one of the “world’s most beautiful.” Having seen some part of the beauty of these regions of Norway through bus windows, we had hoped one day to see them from a different perspective, the deck of a Norwegian ship. Fifteen years later that day had come at last.

Hurtigruten had its beginnings in the late nineteenth century. Because of the nature of the western and northern Norwegian coastlines, rail travel was almost impossible. Therefore, the government contracted with Captain Richard Wirth to establish a cargo, passenger, and mail service to improve communication between communities on the otherwise almost inaccessible coast. Hurtigruten’s first voyage was on July 2, 1893, when Wirth captained the Vesteraalen from Trondheim to Hammerfest in Finnmark with stops at Rørvik, Brønnøy, Sandnessjøen, Bodø, Svolvær, Lødingen, Harstad, Tromsø, and Skjervøy along the way.

Earlier on, Hurtigruten competed with several other coastal carriers, the Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab (OVDS) and the Troms Fylkes Dampskibsselskap. Over the course of the twentieth century, as road and air travel improved, the demands on the coastal carriers shifted increasingly away from freight, cargo, and local travel. Hurtigruten eventually combined with the remaining independent carriers, emerging with a renewed focus on tourism and passenger travel.

Nevertheless, Hurtigruten retains its roots as a working line. It still carries mail, cargo, and local passengers between the thirty-six ports on its north- and south-bound schedules. This is not your typical cruise ship and, frankly, the unconventional was what we preferred. No water slides, no casino tables, no Disney characters putting on a show. For us, the magnificent scenery of the fjord country and of the coastal islands—and, with luck, the Northern Lights—were the shows we had come to see.

We decided to bracket our voyage with three full days in Bergen at the beginning and three full days in Oslo at the end. We had fallen in love with Bergen on our first visit and wanted to share with Justin and Andrea some of what we had seen then—especially Troldhaugen where Edvard Grieg had lived. We hadn’t yet been to Oslo, so that was reason enough to add it to the end of our journey. Andrea had been to Norway, including Bergen and Oslo, before. Like us, she had fallen in love with the country. She had first seen these cities as a seventeen-year-old and, as she readily admitted, was glad to see them again, as an adult, with Justin—the only one of us for whom Norway would be completely new. The Hurtigruten voyage would be a truly novel experience for all of us.

The first days of a long trip like this are always a hectic blur. A limousine to the airport; waiting at gates; a layover in Detroit; a long flight over the Atlantic, squeezed into uncomfortable, economy-sized seats. Then there was a layover in Amsterdam and more waiting at gates. Finally, we landed in Bergen and figured out how to get into town—Bergen’s airport is forty-five minutes away from the city center via the Bybanen (City Light Rail).

Once downtown, it was just before noon, and we had to kill time to get into our apartment on the Vestre Murallmenningen, not too far from the harbor and the old Hanseatic waterfront, the Bryggen. We dragged our luggage through the rain to a coffee shop, the Espresso House on Olav Kyrres gate. A café mocha and sandwich later, we still had time to while away. We then lugged ourselves to the Bergen stasjon, where we found, to our great good fortune, an unoccupied set of chairs and a couch. The couch was hard and unforgiving, but welcome nevertheless to Greg, Joan, and Justin, who took turns resting on it. There are worse places to wait. Built in 1913 by Jens Zetlitz Monrad Kielland in the National Romantic style, it was our temporary refuge from the continuing downpour outside. Andrea was the only one of our small group who seemed unfazed by the tiring journey.

“I’m pumped—I’m in Norway!” she answered wholeheartedly when asked how she could not be exhausted from the trip.

We talked, we dozed, and the hours passed. Close to four o’clock we set off in search of our Norwegian home for the next three days.

Luckily, the apartment was only about a thirteen-minute walk, first down the Kaigaten, and then up a small hill on the Markevein. On the second floor, it was roomy, clean, and well-furnished. It was conveniently close to a REMA 1000 grocery store. More importantly, the apartment had comfortable beds and a large shower. After a small repast foraged from the store, we reviewed the day and opted, unanimously, for an early and well-deserved retirement to our pillows. Even Andrea was ready to turn in for the night.

Our pillows await!