Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cloudberry Jam

We have heard that the Norwegians prize cloudberries (multebær)above the multitude of different berries that grow wild here. The plant is very finicky and can't be cultivated commercially, making it the most expensive berry in the world by some estimates. They grow in bogs and need a long warm summer to set fruit. Needless to say that only happens occasionally in Norway, so a good crop of berries happens every 5 -7 years or so. They are most plentiful in Sweden and Finland, are listed as an endarged plant in Denmark, and can be found in parts of Canada (there are a few plants as far south as New Hampshire I'm told). I purchased 1 pound of berries (10$) at the Trondheim farmers market and made jam yesterday. Very tasty... I hear that one pound of berries in Canada runs 70$. I think I finally found something less expensive in Norway than back home.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Pulling into the train station Friday afternoon I felt I saw a ghost. No, not of a person but of a city. Trondheim harbor reminded me so much of home. The islands in the bay bared an uncanny resemblance to Lummi and Orcas, the city arrayed picturesquely on the hillside resembling South Hill. I understand how all those Norwegian immigrants came to settle in the PNW as it reminded them of home.

Mike Naylor was kind enough to collect us at the train station and show us some of the city sites. At his home we were treated to a homemade dinner Pam cooked up: a traditional Trondheim soup of lamb, potatoes and carrots. The Naylors’ moved to Trondheim 3 years ago from Bellingham (you can see their blog at http://naylors-in-norway.blogspot.com/). They are a warm and open family that made us at ease in there home immediately. We had never met them, but felt an easy familiarity that comes from a shared experience of moving abroad. Their kids (Maggie age 13, Peter age 10, and Anna age 7) attend an international school in Trondheim, where Pam works, and Mike works for NTNU (Norwegian Technical National University , I think). They haven’t decided whether or not they are staying forever, but love Trondheim and living in Norway.

Saturday Mike walked with us to downtown (about 20 minutes), past captivating brightly painted wharfs lining the river Nid (Nidelva). We left him to work at an outdoor research fair (forskningsdagene) organized by the University, and set off for Nidarosdomen (Nidoras Cathedral). The largest medieval building in Scandinavia, it was built in honor of Olav Haraldsson . Born in 995 he was a viking mercenary who fought for the English King Ethelred and converted to Christianity. With the help of his English friends he invaded Norway in 1015, and brought the fervor of a convert back to his native land. He ordered all pagan worship sites desecrated and executions of anyone who would not convert. He was forced into exile in 1028, and tried to regain power two years later only to be killed in battle. The sited of his burial on the river Nid became known for miracles and his body was exhumed and was not decayed !! The bishop declared him a saint, and had his body was placed in a silver casket. (We have to rely on the story of the early church believers who needed a saint to consolidate their power). The cathedral, which took approximately 100 years to complete, was finished in 1152. By the way, the Danes melted down his casket for coinage in the 1537. It is awe inspiring and timeless, with the scent of candles and a deep quiet. The outside is adorned with many fantastic gargoyles posturing absurdly (sometimes obscenely) around the edge of the roof.
From there we walked to a farmers market that had incredible organic food, and spent time sitting lazily in the sun enjoying the unseasonably warm late September sun. Norwegians really know how to take advantage of good weather, people were out walking, swimming (a tad cold for that..) beach combing, and just generally happy because the weather was fantastic.
This city is inviting and relaxed, and we will hopefully be visiting it again, as there is much more to do and explore .

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Strangstadhågån Homestead

After a few misfires we met our distant norwegian relatives yesterday Doris and Anders Hagen. Anders and I are related via our mutual great great grandfather: while my great grandfather left for the US as a small boy in the 1890's, most of his family stayed in Norway. They live on the same piece of property as our great grandparents did, which is located on a hillside above Tretten. Before visiting the old family farm, they fed us a stack of waffles accompanied by delicious homemade cloudberry and strawberry jam and sour cream. Cloudberry is highly prized by the norwegians and can only be collected during years with warm dry summers, which is not what we are experiencing this summer. Their farm has an amazing view of the River Laag and its lovely valley. While they are thoroughly modern (internet, new Subaru, newer house and barn) they are restoring the old homestead (Strangstadhågån)to its original state with help from a Norwegian historical society. Anders is painstakingly fixing the old house and barn, using the same methods used by our ancestors. He uses his grandfathers' tools to cut down trees from his property, then shape them into wood beams, mud as mortar and stones also collected from the property to make a chimney and lichen as insulation. For the roof, he is shaping slate shingles originally hauled up BY HAND over 1000 ft by the original owner in the 1850s. The roof of the cow barn, which has these slates, is the original one, so these slate shingles really last! Anders really knows his stuff and teaches others the building techniques used by their ancestors. He thinks he will be finished restoring the house in a few years, then rent it out for tourists in the summer (as good as lichen is at insulation, its still chilly in - 30 degree temperatures!). Their 27 year old daughter (Ida) and her husband (Knut Erik Fryjordet) now run the farm- they have jersey cows and a flock of amazing ancient special sheep - yes that is the translated name. (Gamle spesielle sauer). This breed of sheep has been around since the age of the vikings and seem like a goat-sheep cross. They have multicolor wool, both sexes have horns and they browse instead of graze- meaning they can eat just about anything. Anders says they better suited to the cold winters and less prone to predation than modern sheep.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Snow forecast

I noticed the doors first. The automatic doors at the grocery store don't open until you wait in front of them for a second. I'm used to walking briskly out the door so I almost walked into the door at first. I realize now they are timed differently to save heat in the winter. Then I noticed the plants. Astilbe blooming in late August, as were Shasta daisies and Solomon Seal. Last week the road crews were placing snow sticks- (that's what I call them, not sure what the official term is) at the side of the road. They need to go into the ground before it freezes. Conceptually I've known that I've moved farther north, but I am seeing all the signs in front of me now. The natives love to tell me how cold it was last winter (-40 degrees Celsius briefly, stayed below -30 for at least a few weeks). I have a hard time with that concept. I don't think it is compatible with life... I hope this winter is milder (lets only go -20 !!).
By the way, snow is forecast for Friday- Brrr!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


This weekend we were suppose to hike in Jotunheimen National Park, but the weather turned nasty, and we chickened out. So off to the western fjords we went. The weather was just as miserable, but we spent most of our time indoors enjoying truly breathtaking scenery. The drive was an adventure. Route 50 travels through a high mountain plateau (Hallingskarvet) very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, looming granite, dark brooding lakes and small alpine plants that are now in their fall colors. We expected Orcs to start lobbing boulders at us. From there the highway descends about 2000 meters to sea level in a scarily direct and narrow manner. In some places and without warning the road would narrow so only one car or large truck could pass. There were several ancient dark tunnels on the descent, and I started to believe in trolls. The view of the fjord below was fantastic and made it hard to concentrate on driving.
We stayed at Skahjem farm, in a converted sheep barn that sits in a narrow river valley surrounded by steep mountains. The sheep still live on the property, and they greeted us in typical ovine fashion (stares, a few bleets). Kiwi was intimidated by their lack of respect for her size. The accommodations were spotless, but the beds were hard and lumpy...
Saturday we took a state ferry from Flåm to Gudvangen, which took about 2 hours. Mid-September is the tail end of the fjords tourist season, so the boat was not too crowded. We were joined by several tour groups- one from India, another from Japan, and one from Wisconsin. The Japanese tourists were particularly taken with Kiwi, one gentleman took at least a dozen photos of her.
Despite the rain the scenery was breathtaking. Nærøyfjord is the narrowest fjord in the world, at one point only 250 meters across, the mountains above reach 1800 meters. UNESCO has recently granted this fjord and another farther north (Geirangerfjord) World Heritage Status. Nærøyfjord is an arm of the Sognefjord.
Sunday was also damp, and we went out for a short run in the ran alongside the fjords. Juliette noted that running was more enjoyable with such dramatic scenery! On the drive home we stopped in Borgund and briefly admired the stave church that was built in 1180. We can't wait to return to Western Norway.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Map of Norway and Sweden

I thought a map would be helpful for those who wonder why we have traveled twice to Sweden. Geographically we are closer to much of Sweden than many parts of Norway (Similar to Bellingham, where we traveled to Canada frequently). However we do have plans to see more of Norway. This weekend we will travel to Jotunheimen National Park, Norway- not far from Otta on the map. Jotunheimen translates roughly to home of the giants and has Northern Europes two highest peaks: Galdhøppigen (2,649 meters) and Glittertind (2,469 mteters). We park near the entrance of the park and take a boat across Lake Gjende to a hiking lodge. In the States we would use tents, but as all of our hiking gear is on a (slow) boat to Norway we will rough it in a lovely DNT lodge and have our meals cooked for us!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Well, the novelty has worn off for the kids. They want to go home, or at least not go to school. They are tired of not being able to communicate in either English or Norwegian. The kids at school are very friendly but not able to really communicate in English (no, I'm not criticizing, just noting). I think they feel like bugs under a microscope. Everyone knows who they are, but they don't fit in yet and miss their good friends in Bellingham. Peter and I don't really know what they are going through: my class is made up of foreigners who also don't fit in while Peter's college has people from all over the world. I'm also an adult who doesn't have the same need for social connectivity as they do.
They both enjoy traveling and love the Norwegian and Swedish countryside. The houses are so picturesque that I expect the occupants to come out wearing traditional garb. No walmart, no Costco, no strip malls... just forest, fields, lakes and volvo's. We went to Sälen, Sweden this weekend. It is a small town with a ski area about 2 hours to the east of us. The border on highway 26 is not even noted (no customs agents or border patrol ...). I managed to lose my wallet in a small town - I guess I left it on top of the car after we purchased a map. I would say Alzheimer's is setting in but I have always done things like that. Good thing Peter has patience. I had to cancel all the cards, so we only had the cash in our wallet to get through the weekend. Lucky for us the Norwegian Kroner is worth about 1/3 more than the Swedish Kroner, so we squeeked by. We stayed in a small cabin in Sälen, and Conlon went downhill mountain biking while we hiked. Unfortunately Conlon has downhill biked in Whistler and the terrain here is tame by comparison. But they are developing the sport here, and we heard of another more challenging mountain about 2 hours further north that we will try soon. Whistler is great, but much more expensive and commercial than this area. Kiwi was frantic to catch the lemmings that were everywhere and her inner wolf has been reborn. She is exhausted now and will sleep for the next three days dreaming of little squeaky rodents for dinner.