Norway in a Nutshell, Part 1

Let’s face it, travel can be expensive.  I realized years ago that I could increase my opportunities to see the world simply by responding “I’ll come!” when invited to visit friends and family in exotic locations.  That strategy sent me to Maui, Santa Barbara, Tuscany, and Manchester, England, to name a few.

In October of 2005 I responded to a casual “you should come visit me!” from my friend Carolyn by traveling to Oslo, where she was completing a sabbatical.   I flew with her to Norway via Reykjavik, Iceland as she returned from a visit home.  In the late afternoon of the day we arrived, we walked around Oslo Harbor.

Clock tower in Oslo Harbor

Clock tower in Oslo Harbor

The air felt fresh and thin, sailboats chimed at their moorings, and Norway appeared to my eyes to be colored in a thousand shades of blue and grey.  I loved it instantly.  Frisked by the icy wind, we explored the Akershus Fortress that overlooks the harbor.

Akershus Fortress overlooks Oslo Harbor

Akershus Fortress

Norwegian Teens

Norwegian Teens sit on a hill overlooking Oslo Harbor

While Carolyn worked, I explored Frognerparken, home to hundreds of bronze and granite statues by the beloved Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland.  Wikipedia describes the sculpture garden as celebrating man’s journey from the cradle to the grave, and mentions the many statues of ‘children at play.’  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this strange collection, but as far as I could discern, the story went something like this:

At some point during their journey from cradle to grave, Norwegians apparently were attacked by a swarm of babies.

A Plague of Babies

The adults fought valiantly, but eventually they were overcome.

So many babies …

The babies took control.

Norway's version of "Children at Play"

They eventually grew into some very creepy looking children.

Sinister children

I wasn’t clear on all the details, but the story didn’t seem to end well.

A pile of bodies

The statues depicted nude people in every possible human combination.  Perhaps it was the chill in the wind, but to my eyes the statues appeared either sinister or sad.

Man and mother

Some of the most mystifying relationships were also the most intriguing.

Old women and man

Frognerparken seemed to me to be an odd place to relax and read a paper, but this Norwegian man tucked himself right in amidst all of the angst to enjoy the sun. The stone girl behind him seemed to be reading over his shoulder.

Man reading

At Frognerparken, I also discovered the secret to recent Norwegian prosperity.  They may claim that it is due to the vast reserves of oil discovered in the Norwegian Sea, but I believe I’ve stumbled on the real source of that influx of cash.

Pay Toilets!

Pay Toilets!

One of my favorite things to do in a foreign country is visit a local grocery store. I like to see what the people who live there eat at home, how they prepare it, and how much it costs. 


As it turns out, my French was not entirely useless in Norway —  ‘kreme Sjampinjong-o’ when read aloud sounds quite a bit like ‘creme champignon,’ also known as our American classic, Cream of Mushroom soup.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Cream of Mushroom Soup

What is Lychee, anyway?

What is Lychee, anyway?

Scandinavian countries may have a reputation for being less than welcoming, but I felt right at home.  Maybe it was my Swedish genes, but something about Norway just felt right to me.  Having said that, I may never go back.  It remains the most expensive country I have ever visited.  Our 7-minute cab ride from the train station to the apartment cost about $25, and it was hard to go out to lunch for less than $30 per person.  Carolyn and I were not about to let sticker shock keep us from an adventure, and after a few days in Oslo, we booked ourselves on a whirlwind tour of western Norway, called ‘Norway in a Nutshell.’


Itchy Feet

Or, How I Dreamed of Running Away Before Finally Doing It

When I was a little girl, I begged my parents for an Easy Bake Oven.  I’m pretty sure they interpreted this as a normal girl’s desire to make cakes and cookies just like mommy.  What I’m certain they didn’t realize was that the oven was a critical piece of my secret plan to run away.  In my fantasy, I would step through the sliding glass doors of our house in Atlanta, stride boldly across the backyard, and enter the woods, where I would live by my wits, independent and free.  Being young, and somewhat unclear on the concept of electricity, I reasoned that my Easy Bake Oven would allow me to cook for myself in the wild.

I like to think Thoreau would have been proud (or at least mildly amused).

I’m sure I had other childish dreams, but this is the one that stuck.  Decades later, I can still recapture that longing with ease.  In a moment, I am once again sitting at the table in our darkened kitchen, pale sunlight hitting my face through the sliding glass doors, consumed with a single desire.  I want to pack up my Easy Bake Oven and go.

This urge to light out for the Territories turned out to be a recurring desire as I was growing up.   A few years ago, my Dad gave me a piece of my childhood in a bronze frame:  a drawing I had done in crayon of a campsite, complete with apple trees, a grey square helpfully labeled “water tub,” and a bucket of berries.  The drawing includes a creative assortment of camping equipment, and is accompanied by a story.

The Day I Met Smokey Bear in the Woods

The Day I Met Smokey Bear in the Woods

One day I went camping.  It was fun.  I set up my red & yellow spotted tent and layed out my brite pink sleeping bag.  I’m camping alowne tonight!

I’m going to pick Blue Berrys and Black Berrys all colors of berrys.  I saw something strange.  It was brown.  I went and looked at it.  It was Smokey Bear.  I was very happy!  The End.

My teacher, clearly not up to date on recommended procedures for bear encounters, marked my efforts “Excellent!”   The dream was still alive.

Later, as a teenager in the suburbs of Long Island, the plan took a more practical turn, and acquired a destination.  In this version of the dream, I would throw all of my stuff into a blue van, and drive around out West.  Why blue?  Why West?  I could not have said.  The details evolved but the essentials had not changed.  I was going, and I was going alone.

It took me another twenty years, including eleven months of planning, before I finally turned my steering wheel in the direction of the Zen Buddhist Temple in Chicago, the first stop on a rough circular route that would take me from my home in Ann Arbor through the four corners states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico over the period of five weeks.  The blue van turned out to be a 2-door Ford Explorer, my tent was green, and the Easy Bake Oven did not make the gear list.

To this day, I’m not sure why I felt such a need to go, and go alone.  Road trip, adventure?  Of course.  Wanderlust, itchy feet?   I confess to both.  Independence, self reliance?  Definitely.   It was the first adventure I planned and executed myself, without parental advice or consent, and it gave me a taste of a type of freedom it is difficult to experience as a responsible, employed adult with bills to pay and a 401k to fund.

If I’m honest, the stories are the reason why I go.  I love being a part of them, and I love telling them.   One of my favorite parts of any trip is the time spent re-living it with my traveling companions, talking over and around each other as each contributes a scrap of memory to the tale.  “… and then you … no, no, what I said was … I couldn’t believe it when he … the best part was when …  ”

Were you to ask me about myself, it is one of the first stories I would tell.