Our Norwegian Saga: Departures and Arrivals

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.

The Church in Grønland, 2018

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.

Greenland, 2018

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.

Final Entry of Norges Reise i 1932, Translation by Martin Cornelius

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.


Our Norwegian Saga: Last Day in Oslo

September 23, 2018

 On our last day in Oslo we wanted to tick off a last few items on our journey’s wish list. We hadn’t yet visited the Historical Museum (Historisk Museum) operated by the University of Oslo on the Frederiks gate in the central city. The main purpose of the visit was, oddly, to visit the Egyptian exhibits, not the Norwegian ones! Egypt had long fascinated one of our members, Andrea, and we decided to mix a little Near East into the Far North. The Museum, in addition to the Egyptian exhibition, also had a gallery devoted to different arctic and sub-arctic cultures—the Saami exhibit was especially interesting. The “Coin Cabinet” had a display of coins, but most fascinating was a display of Norwegian Orders and Medals whose design, a museum display label informed us, was “superior to those of Sweden.”

Medals and Orders—Superior to those of Sweden, 2108

During Casper and Gjertine’s 1932 trip to Norway, they made several trips to Oslo. Each visit to Oslo included time spent with a Professor O. B. Grimley, someone, it appears, with whom Casper had some more than passing acquaintance.

Grimley was born in the United States of Norwegian parents, but in an unusual reversal of the typical immigration pattern, immigrated to Norway from America. He was born in North Dakota, attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and became professor of Norwegian language and history at the Norwegian College in Outlook, Saskatchewan, Canada. He had also served as a colonization representative for the Canadian National Railway’s colonization and immigration department. A 1926 Canadian article reported his role in bringing the first Norwegian-American settlers from North Dakota to Saskatchewan to establish farms purchased by the CNR. Around 1926 he took up residence in Oslo, having accepted a position with the Norwegian-American Line to promote travel between Norway and America.  He was active in Norwegian-American history circles as both an author and lecturer and likely that way became acquainted with Joan’s great-grandfather.  Both men were heavily involved with the fostering of ties between Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans; they were fellow historians of the Norwegian-American experience, as it were.

The Oslo Domkirke, 2018

On one of their visits to Oslo, Casper mentioned attending services at the “Our Savior’s Church” (Vår Frelsers kirke). This, we soon determined, was now referred to as the Oslo Cathedral (Oslo domkirke). One of Joan’s final objectives was to visit the cathedral and spend some small time inside—not just to see the interior, but to sit and meditate a moment on the significance, if any, of yet another intersection between her great-grandparents’ journey and her own. As we approached the cathedral, services were in session, and casual tourists such as ourselves were warned away until sometime after the noon hour.

We then decided to visit Frogner Park (Frognerparken), also prominently mentioned in Casper’s 1932 chronicle. After riding the subway for some stops, and a bit of a walk, Justin successfully navigated us to our destination; the navigation skills of his ancestors have obviously not washed out of his genome.

The park is quite extensive and contains the Vigeland sculpture installation (Vigelandsanlegget), created by Gustav Vigeland between 1924 and 1943. The first part of the installation, the Bridge with its fifty-eight sculptures, first opened to the public in 1940.  This was followed by three other features: the Fountain, the Monolith, and the Wheel of Life. The Monolith, at the highest point of Frogner Park, was not completed until 1944. Carved out of a single piece of granite, it depicts one hundred and twenty-one entwined human figures reaching to the sky. In 1932 Joan’s great-grandparents would not have seen any of this marvelous array of sculptures—all created by Vigeland himself.

A View of Frogner Park, 2018

What would Casper and Gjertine have seen? Well, possibly, Frogner Manor built in 1750 by Major Hans Jacob Scheel, and mayhaps the Pavilion located on the small Utsikten Hill. Perhaps they had also seen the Frogner baths, or the buildings remaining from the 1914 Jubilee Exhibition. We do know, because Casper mentions it, that he and Gjertine viewed a statue of Abraham Lincoln located in the park, first unveiled there on July 4, 1914, during the period of the Jubilee, which ran from May through October. Casper wrote that the statue was “given by the Norwegian people of North Dakota.”

Since its unveiling in 1914, Norwegians have gathered at the Abraham Lincoln memorial every 4th of July to pay tribute to the man and reaffirm their bonds with Norwegian-Americans.

We didn’t—couldn’t—see everything in the massive one hundred and eleven-acre park. It was too large, and we needed to get back to the Cathedral before it closed. The day, like our journey itself, was running out like the sand in an hourglass. We never located the Lincoln statue and, hurrying out the wrought iron main gate of the Park onto the Kirkeveien, we rushed back to the City Center. We promised sincerely to return someday and, like Casper and Gjertine, visit Lincoln—a tangible icon of America’s relationship with Norway.

On every journey there are sights seen, and many more not seen. Towns visited, and a multitude more bypassed. We can always only sample a smattering of what any country offers. For every landscape or monument or architectural marvel, there is another too difficult or far away to reach. And, always, there is too little time.  Every journey is a physical narrative of all that has been visited and experienced, but there is a shadow narrative, the umbral reflection of that journey, of all that has not.

As Justin and Andrea went back to our temporary home in Grønland, we ran out the clock at the Oslo Cathedral. Just a half hour or so before it closed for the day we entered. As Greg took the obligatory pictures to complete the chronicle of our visit, Joan just found a pew and sat down. The church was quiet, nearly empty. That Sunday morning on September 11, 1932, Casper and Gjertine sat in a church filled with worshippers.

Was she sitting in the same pew that her great-grandparents had sat in? Was she seeing the altar nearly as they had seen it? This was our last full day in Norway, the end of our journey, again standing in the footsteps of Joan’s great-grandparents. Such an odd confluence of events has allowed us to parallel so well the eighty-six-year-old journey of her ancestors. Will someday another ancestor, perhaps in another eighty-six years, retrace Casper and Gjertine’s path, or even our own rapidly concluding journey?

In the Oslo Cathedral, 2018

Our Norwegian Saga: Bygdøy and the Museums

September 22, 2018

Today dawned clear and bright, a welcome contrast to yesterday’s alternating drizzles and downpours. A clear blue sky replaced the looming gray cloud cover; it was just the perfect day for us to journey out to Bygdøy and visit the museums we had penciled into our Nordic itinerary over a year before. We were going to visit the Vikingskipshuset (the Viking Ship Museum), the Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History), and the Norsk Maritimt Museum (Norwegian Maritime Museum).

These three museums, and two others we did not visit, are on the Bygdøy peninsula. The peninsula, once a true island, as one can tell by the distinctive ending on its name, is filled with parks and forests and several small, but upscale, residential areas. In addition to five national museums, it also houses the summer residence of the King of Norway. The peninsula is most easily reached by taking the ferry from downtown Oslo—the harbor only a few steps from the Nobel Peace Center, the former Oslo West Railway Station.

The ferry ride was short and uneventful; most of the transit involved the checking or purchasing of ferry tickets. Soon we were on the peninsula navigating to our first stop, the Viking Ship museum, where, among other recovered Viking-era ships, the Osebergskipet (Oseberg ship) is on display.  The Oseberg ship is an extremely well-preserved clinker-built longship of a type called a karve. The longship was, by all accounts, a seaworthy, working vessel that was later promoted to use as a funerary ship for an important personage. The karve was recovered from a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway, complete with grave goods and the skeletons of two women.

The Oseberg Ship, 2018

This ship held a particular fascination for our little group of adventurers because of the possibility that one of the two women found in the burial was Queen Åsa of the Yngling clan, mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother of Harald Fairhair. Why our particular interest? As it turns out, Joan had been able to trace her Norwegian ancestry back some twenty-six generations, using a combination of Norwegian church records, historical sources, and Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, directly to Queen Åsa. This connection, even if only possibly true, and mayhap only an exotic family story, added a particular thrill to the visit. Justin and Andrea had fully prepared for the visit, by reading William L. Sullivan’s The Ship in the Hill, a partly fictional recounting of the ship’s background story and 1904 excavation. Justin had finished the book, in fact, just hours before we stepped into the Vikingskipshuset and gazed up at the ship, with its elaborate, mesmerizing carvings at bow and stern. These carvings, in the so-called “gripping beast” style, featured fantastic creatures that intertwined as they grappled and snapped at one another.

One exhibit, amongst the displays of grave goods and carvings, had a disquieting effect on Joan and Justin. It showed the skeletal remains of two women, one older, and by the evidence, once important. The other, quite possibly a sacrifice, a handmaiden sent to accompany her companion across the last threshold. A set of skeletal teeth on one of them was starkly visible and a bit jarring. Joan felt a chill, eerily unsettled; she seemed momentarily distant.

Only later did she articulate her emotions, “it didn’t seem like the right place for them…it seemed inappropriate somehow. When I look at remains like these, I always imagine real people. I see them in my mind’s eye. I relate to them as what they once were, not the relicts that lie under the glass, under the gaze of thousands of strangers.”

Justin, terse and serious as he sometimes is, seemed similarly affected, but uttered only a single sentence, albeit one that said it all, “I read that they were buried….”

While he was referencing the book he had just hours before finished reading, his words expressed the essence of what he and Joan were feeling. The remains seemed displaced, in the wrong place, certainly not where this ancient pair had expected to be, on public view. The burial had been magnificent and intended by kin and community to bestow honor upon the deceased. Was this public display an honor?

It has to be said it was clear that, for both Joan and Justin, and maybe to some extent for Andrea and Greg, as affines to these Norwegians, there was something old and primeval unearthed in the presence of the longship. The curving prow, the fighting beasts, the swell and curve of the belly of the ship, brought up and to the surface, from somewhere deep within, a sense of great heritage, of a timeless legacy, and, yes, of kinship. There was an ineffable, inexorable feeling of attraction where past and present met, and we were balanced, if merely for moments, in a time between, when a long dead Queen reached out her hand and laid it proudly upon the brows of her children.

Humbled—yet stirred—by the great antiquity of what we had seen, we headed to the Norsk Folkemuseum to pick up the thread of Norway’s cultural history and follow it for just some centuries further. The Folk Museum is actually a fairly large complex consisting of indoor exhibit galleries and an “open air” museum similar to the one we had visited in Trondheim in 2003. The gallery exhibits focus on Norwegian folk art traditions, Norwegian folk dress, Saami culture, and even the history of Norwegian knitting!

The traditional carvings, regional folk painting styles, and complex textile patterns we saw in the exhibits brought home to us the significance of the traditional and decorative arts in Norwegian life—arts that are even to this day honored, preserved, and practiced. Our small collection of Swedish and Norwegian crafts at home certainly seemed unimportant and miniscule in the context of the museum. But both collections, the large and the small, signify a reverence for Norwegian folk tradition, in Norway today and among Norway’s scattered descendants in America.

Folk Arts of Norway, 2018

The outdoor exhibition was extensive, with relocated and restored farm buildings of all types: homes, granaries, outbuildings, and barns. There was a reconstructed “old town” with a collection of shops and dwellings from the cities and towns of bygone times in Oslo. There was a striking stavkirke (stave church), and also some examples of buildings from summer dairy farms called seters.  Many of Joan and Justin’s female ancestors from the Sogn og Fjordane region had been summer dairy milkmaids, or seterbudeia, residing the entire season temporarily in cottages on the seter. Our cameras were busy, recording rooflines, steeples, lintels and doorways, chronicling the everyday constructions that must have been home and hearth and neighborhood to generations of Joan and Justin’s ancestors.

Justin and Greg at the outdoor museum on Bygdøy, 2018

We could have spent longer on these extensive grounds, but a tourist’s day is finite, and there was one museum left on our itinerary. A little bit of a walk took us to the Maritime Museum. While Joan’s maternal grandmother’s ancestors had emigrated from the small farms along the Nordjord, her maternal grandfather’s people had come from islands off the Western coast, Vikna and Leka—the islands we had passed earlier in the week. They had farmed, but also extensively fished, living as they did, in constant contact with the sea. They had been skippers, mates, and crewmen on a myriad ships and pursued the Norwegian cod in the Lofoten Islands for generations. Many of her ancestors paid for their unspoken contract with the Norwegian sea using the only currency that mattered, their lives.

The Maritime Museum captured quite effectively the long and entangled history of Norway and the sea. A history of fjord sailing, coastal navigation, and transatlantic crossing. A history of fighting, fishing, and freight; a history of the transportation of a great portion of an entire people to America via emigration, and, now, lately, of luxury cruises and tourist amenities. One exhibit, quite striking, allowed visitors to imagine themselves on a vintage cruise ship, perhaps an early iteration of the vessels that first began to take passengers on tours along the Western coast to the North Cape. We could climb the wooden staircase up and down from panoramic lounge to dining room, and to the first- and second-class cabins. We had a clearer visual sense of how Casper and Gjertine’s 1932 journey must have been. Later, we stumbled upon a large-scale replica of the MS Stavangerfjord, the very ship that had transported her great-grandparents from Oslo, to Bergen, to Trondheim and finally up the coast to the northernmost tip of Norway, the eighty-six-year-old journey that we had, to some great degree, just replicated a few days before.

A Scale Model of the SS Stavangerfjord, 2018

However, as exciting as our discovery of the Stavangerfjord was, one of the most affecting exhibits was not this large model, but a very small painting by Christian Krohg in the maritime art gallery, entitled, simply, “The Herring Are In” [Silda kommer]. It depicts Norwegian fishermen in the street of a small town, putting on slickers and running for their boats. Two women are leaning out of windows, watching them hurry away to the sea. Their postures express a mix of hope for a bountiful catch and of unspoken fear. Joan and Greg remember the fiskerbondekona statue in the Rørvik town square we saw fifteen years ago—a fisherman’s wife looking out to sea with an expression of both expectancy and dread. The Norwegian sea is the source of life and health and wealth, but also of unexpected violence, death, and sorrow.

Silda kommer by Christian Krohg, Oslo Maritime Museum

Thoughtful, we returned to the ferry, navigating our own way back home by water and then by land. We turned in, after a cobbled together dinner of sandwiches, thinking already of our last full day in Oslo tomorrow.

Our Norwegian Saga: A Rainy Day in Oslo

September 21, 2018

We had the benefit of good weather during most of our trip. Since the deluge in Bergen on the 14th, we had experienced only a little drizzle at Urke a day later. From Ålesund onwards we had unexpectedly clear skies. However, our luck didn’t hold. Or, perhaps, having left our ship, we were no longer under Njord’s protection. In any case, it was going to be a very wet day in Oslo today. Fortunately, knowing the forecast, we postponed our planned visit to the “Museum Island” at Bygdøy and opted to make this our “shopping day.”

Justin wanted to visit a men’s clothing store called Dressman. Joan and Andrea wanted to complete their list of gifts, a mix of “sorry you weren’t with us travel consolation gifts,” a Shreve Family tradition, and presents to save for Christmas.  We had started on this list in Bergen; but it is harder than one would think to buy items that are suited to the recipient and might be valued as a token of love, affection and, sometimes humor. It often takes the whole trip to complete the list if one puts any real thought into it at all. Greg has often tried to quash this tradition but has, so far, been overruled.

We wandered the streets, looking into store windows, entering whatever shop took our fancy. We ended up, at one point, in front of the University of Oslo buildings on Karl Johans gate where there was a small outdoor exhibition going on, a science education fair of sorts called forskningsdagen (research days) in Norwegian. From there we wandered up the street, across the Frederiks gate to the Slottsparken to view the Royal Palace at the end of a broad promenade. Casper, who with Gjertine had visited Oslo several times during the three-month 1932 trip to Norway, mentioned seeing all these same sites. In fact, they also visited a fair, the Norges Varemesse (Norwegian trade fair), while visiting the city.

The Royal Palace in Oslo, 2018

After that, we tried to find a café for a coffee and a bit to eat but, given the steady rain and frequent gusts of wind, everyone else seemed to have the same idea. We had to search, a bit damp and hungry for a café with some seats. Finally, traipsing down Rosenkrantz gate, we found the Kaffistova, a roomy café with plenty of seating. We had, quite by chance, wandered into an old Oslo fixture. The Kaffistova was built in 1901, and the back wall was covered in a variety of photographs depicting its earlier days. Greg had Norwegian apple cake, Justin and Andrea some sort of lemon cake, and Joan, of course, something chocolate—a decadent tort. Paired with café mochas, we soon replenished body and spirit. The Kaffistova is in a block with the Hotell Bondeheimen, built in 1913, and the Heimenes Husflid, a shop where you can buy authentic Norwegian handicrafts.

The name bondeheimen triggered a memory in Joan—her great-grandparents Casper and Gjertine had stayed in a hotel Casper called a bondeheimen in Trondheim in 1932. It seemed unlikely that there were hotel chains operating back then—but as it turns out there was a relationship. The Kaffistova and the Hotell Bondeheimen in Oslo and the hotel her great-grandparents had stayed at in Trondheim were facilities initially constructed and maintained by the bondeungdomslag movement, often translated as the “Peasant Youth Association.” The movement was a response to the rapid urbanization of Norway in the late nineteenth century. Bondeungdomslag affiliates established hostels, special cafés, organized social activities, and played an important role in the preservation of traditional culture under pressure from a rapidly modernizing society. There would have been bondeungdomslag hostels and coffee shops in many cities, although Oslo’s bondeheim and kaffistova appear to have been the first. Trondheim’s bondeungdomslag organization acquired a property called Gildevangen in 1911 and began to operate a hotel on part of it in 1928—the hotel still operates today. This is, without a doubt, where Casper and Gjertine stayed.

Once we understood the history behind the bondeungdomslag movement, some other puzzling entries in Casper’s journal became clear. During their three months in Norway, Casper and Gjertine attended what Grandpa Martin had translated as “Young People’s meetings.” Clearly the original Norwegian must have referred to meetings of the bondeungdomslag.

This organization served as the template for the Norwegian American bygdelag societies formed in the United States by Norwegian immigrants to create immigrant community networks, preserve ties to the past, and maintain cultural and linguistic connections to Norway. In 1924 Casper himself was instrumental in helping form the first bygdelag (Viknalaget) for natives and descendants of Vikna; he served as its first vice-president and later in other official capacities. It would make sense that he would have wanted to connect to those involved in the bondeungdomslag movement while in Norway.

We finished our city excursion by dropping into the nearby Husfliden shop. Husfliden-butikker are retail stores owned by an association of Norwegian artisans to sell a wide variety of handicrafts, including textiles, knitwear, carvings, jewelry and, in some places, the Norwegian ethnic costume called a bunad. Joan and Greg have found these stores endlessly fascinating, not the least reason being that the craft items are of greater quality and authenticity than the inventory of most souvenir shops—although the prices reflect that higher tier of craftsmanship.

We have a special interest in bunader, because of family photographs showing a member of Joan’s family—Great-Aunt Olga—wearing one. Norwegian bunader are an exotic complicated subject—due in part to the great regional variation in pattern, color, motif, jewelry style, and accessories.  Our visit to the Husfliden store, with its stunning display of brooches, earrings, and even bridal crowns, as well as embroidered, highly decorated bodices, skirts, caps, and purses reminded us of how beautiful a complete bunad ensemble is.

Great Aunt Olga Monseth (L) and friend. Minneapolis ca. 1915

When we left it was still raining, and the streets and sidewalks were littered with standing water. The walk to the subway and then from the subway to our apartment was at least partially a game of “dodge the puddle.” Still, we made it, got dry, and finished off the day with take-out from the nearby “Golden Dragon” restaurant.

It was not lost on us that we had moved in the space of an afternoon from the premises of a historical Norwegian kaffistova to a nondescript contemporary Chinese eatery. We had in one day both acknowledged Oslo’s past and embraced its present. Such shifts, such juxtapositions of new and old, of traditional and modern, perhaps these are, in great part, the very essence of a city like Oslo.

Our Norwegian Saga: Kirkenes and Arrival in Oslo

September 20, 2018

Today we were to dock at Kirkenes, the final stop on our journey up the west coast of Norway. It had been a busy night of packing up the luggage and ensuring that nothing essential had rolled under the bed or been lost in a closet. As on many cruises, suitcases had to be out in front of the cabin before midnight. Luggage sprouted like overnight mushrooms in the passageway, a tangible reminder that the trip was over.

We ate our last breakfast on the MS Spitsbergen, looking out the dining room window at the wake, the waters of the Barents Sea roiling behind us. The coastline scrolled by—as if we were watching a movie that we knew was soon to roll its final credits.

Final Port of Call at Kirkenes, 2018

Kirkenes is in Sør-Varanger Municipality in Finnmark, near the Russian border. We could pretend to cite some facts about the town, as if our visit there had been more substantial. But, truth be told, we have only vague impressions. We were loaded onto an airport transfer bus fifteen minutes after docking, and the only memories we have are recorded in some images taken from the bus window on the way to the airport at Høybuktmoen, some nine miles west of town. A two-hour wait for our flight to Oslo did not leave any particular imprint upon us.

On the other hand, once on the flight, there were intermittent views of the landscape below—the flight path taking us over parts of Norway we had not seen before. Through the cloud cover, every so often, we could see tantalizing glimpses of forests, rivers, lakes, and towns. As we approached the Oslo Airport at Gardermoen, about twenty-two miles from the city, we dipped down over the pastoral landscape of Romerike in Akershus county, spying farms and small towns out the window. There seemed to be evidence of lumbering in the wooded region, an artifact of human occupation more visible from the air.

Approaching Oslo Airport, 2018

The Oslo Airport was a sprawling beast compared to the airport at Kirkenes. We had to take some time to negotiate it, looking for a way to purchase travel passes for the NSB transportation system, the Norges Statsbaner or Norwegian State Railway. These passes would provide us with a way into town—a forty-five minute ride—and access to buses and the T-Bahn subway. There, with the help of a courteous NSB employee, we managed to get four passes and be on our way to Oslo-S, the Oslo Central Station. From there, after picking up our Oslo Passes (having calculated the benefit of doing so in light of our museum itinerary), we journeyed exactly one subway stop to the neighborhood of Grønland where we would stay in a spacious apartment just across from the Grønland church.

It was a bit of a slog to the apartment; it was beginning to rain. We were carrying backpacks and negotiating wheeled luggage through the teeming streets. Grønland is a multi-ethnic, vibrant area with produce shops, cafés, ethnic restaurants, and a mix of the usual Joker and REMA 1000 convenience and grocery stores. Nevertheless, we eventually found the apartment by dint of Justin’s GPS and settled in. Justin and Andrea forayed out to the nearby REMA and brought back some food and beverage. We fell into an early sleep, after discussing how to spend our upcoming long weekend in Oslo.