Oct 13, 2012

Channeling Our Inner Vikings in Norway

Norway: breathtaking views, vikings, trolls, fountains, wooden cabins with grass roofs, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, fjords, emerald water, ultra modern architecture, clean, efficient. In so many ways, Norway reminded us of home-- both Northern California and Seattle. For that reason, it might be my favorite stop on our trip. But Norway holds its own distinct charm, and was an incredible place to visit. It was also an expensive place to visit- the third most expensive country in the world actually. Sandwiches for everyone from a 7-11 cost us 35 euros ($45) for lunch on our first day. To be fair, they were not bad sandwiches for a 7-11, but still, that is $9/sandwich! From a 7-11! Norway, you crazy.

 Our first stop was Oslo.
I had to spend an hour or two at the Tourist Information office, so the kids had free reign at the plaza in front of the central train station. 
Nothing says "we give up" quite like letting your 4 year old run around in public in his pajamas, which are also hiked up to his armpits. 

In fact, let me take this opportunity to talk about this kid for a minute. Nate, who has been seemingly running for the World's Best Behaved Child Award since birth, decided to make up for all those years of easy-going, mellow, angelic behaviour on this trip. I promise he went through his terrible 2's, terrorist 3's, and eff-you 4's all at once. When we were driving in Germany one day, Sam started complaining, "Mom, can you move Nate? He's just really bothering me with his loud singing, wiggling, hitting, poking, whining, bad breath..." When he wasn't throwing tantrums, tormenting his siblings with his halitosis, and generally being ornery, he was perfecting a flair for all things goofy and silly. And nothing brought that out like posing for pictures. We have so many pictures of Nate being a goofball, I had to make another collage. 
I think we have our future theater major. 

So our first stop in Oslo, was the Norsk Open Air Museum, which should have been one of the highlights of the trip, as it is amazing, but Mia would have none of that, mostly because we made the mistake of telling her it was a museum. Tip #2: When traveling with kids, avoid using the M-word at all costs. 
 Old Stave Church? Mia says No Thanks. 

 Cooking demonstration.

Oh, Mia hated this. 

I loved all the old cabins with grass roofs. Some of my children were less enthused.

I don't know if this some sort of Norwegian thing, but we found a four way drinking fountain. I seriously want this installed in my house. 

We moved on to the Viking Ship Museum, which was equally despised by Mia, if not more so. Something about really amazing ancient artifacts just rub her the wrong way. 
Perfectly preserved viking ships are soooooo 9th century. 

Next to Legoland, the kids would probably tell you that playing in our hotel rooms was their favorite part of the trip.  When we got back to our room that afternoon, they played happily for a few hours while we unpacked and looked up places to eat.

They were so happy in fact, that they seemingly lost all ability to listen and respond to any requests to get ready to go get some dinner. It should be noted that Mark, happily reunited with his phone and wi-fi connection,  also lost touch with his listening skills. Well, hell hath no fury like a woman who is tired, hungry, and being completely ignored. It was decreed that everyone would go to bed immediately and there would be no dinner that night. There were protests all around, so the mean old witch stuffed the children in the oven and ate them for dinner. Oh wait, that's a fairy tale. In reality, Mark came to the rescue and brought in some greasy, overpriced hamburgers while I sulked and gave everyone the stink eye. That'll teach 'em.  

However, the next day dawned bright and beautiful, and the promise of a day of biking around Oslo made everyone happy. Also, horned bike helmets helped quite a bit. (Side note: the helmets only fit Mark and Sam, and we were barely able to get Sam to pose for this picture as he refused to wear the helmet on the bike. In fact, he just saw this and begged me not to post it. Ha ha, sorry buddy. I'm still mad about being ignored.) 

On the way to the Royal Palace. No horns for us. 

All that euphoria lasted just until we got to the naked statues at the Vigeland Sculpture Park, and someone threw a tantrum and then got yelled at and then refused to pose for this adorable picture.
Hint: that person is Mia. 

I believe this one is called "Mother Traveling with Small Children." 

Cooling off, in more ways than one, at the Marina.

Reenacting Munch's The Scream (you can see it advertised in the background). 
Then we went and saw the real thing. 

The building where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. As you can see, Sam
 got a lot of mileage out of The Scream. I think it really spoke to him. 

Last morning in Oslo. We went to an old castle/fort looking over the city. Let it be known to all that in this picture, everyone is happy. Even Sam. That's his happy face.

Another example of Nate being Nate. 

The rare thumbs-up assessment from Mia. Sam on the other hand...

So we're eating lunch in town, when this goes by, with peppy music blaring and perfectly synchronized marching:
So naturally, we joined the throngs chasing after, and ended up at the Royal Palace
 for the changing of the guards.

What followed next was possibly the most boring 25 minutes of my life. I promise you there was a full 10 minutes where the guards stood in 2 lines and stared at each other, while ABSOLUTELY NOTHING happened. We survived to tell the tale, but let me assure you: nothing zaps you of your will to live like pomp and circumstance.

And with that, it was time to leave Oslo. We took a train into the mountains and stayed in a small town next to this lake.

We stumbled onto a little Norsk Heritage festival, hiked around the lake, got a little lost, and ate at a pizza joint where I made Mark take this picture, and if you've ever traveled in Europe you will immediately know why: 
Water!! Big, beautiful glasses of free, refillable water. This is why I love Norway, right here. Our pizza may have cost $50, but we had all the water we ever wanted-- with absolutely no beverage shame. Bless you, Norway. 

Next, we made our way to the far Western coast of Norway to the charming city of Bergen. 

With manholes like this, what is not to love? 

We rode the funicular up the hillside, and took in the views that made me homesick for  the Bay Area. 

The Bergen Funicular offers a treasure hunt through the woods that the kids loved, and took VERY seriously. Really, don't try to suggest to them that it wasn't an extremely important treasure hunt. I'm quite sure they thought there were lives on the line.

Norway is known for it's troll mythology, and I love that they had these sprinkled throughout the woods:

Back in town, we try to walk through the historic warehouse district that is now an UNESCO World Heritage site, but suddenly our happy little treasure hunters could not possibly walk another step without complaining, loudly, about everything. 

Here, I believe that Mia is in the middle of saying, "why do we have to stop every 3 seconds to take another picture?" By the look on my face, you can see that I agree.

So sometimes you just have to stop and let the kids climb some trees and draw in some dirt, 
and catch the historic buildings on another trip. 

The next morning we hopped on a ferry that took us through the fjords,
 to a little town called Balestrand on the Sognefjord. 

Postcard perfect, yes? 

Word's cutest mail box shed.

Family photo op.

Viking burial ground.

Tiny little church.

Fjord jumping. I just need to point out that Mia loved this. She really loved it. So we did it twice. 

The next morning we got up early to go on a little glacier excursion, 
which involved getting on another boat.

The scenery was incredible, and we not only have the pictures to prove it, but also the pictures of people taking pictures of the scenery to double prove it. 

Below the glacier.
It was so amazing, it inspired the kids to hug. That is one powerful glacier. 
Someone, however, felt a little threatened.

The little town closest to the Glacier was known as a book town, and it had tons of these bookshelves and sheds of books for sale scattered throughout. How cool is that? Right Mia? In fact, let's take a picture because you love it so much! 

The next morning we were up early again and took another boat to a town called Flam. From there we took a ride up the mountain on the Flam railway, one of the top train rides in the world, depending on which Top Train Ride websites you are reading. I'm guessing it's also one of the most expensive, and at the price we paid for tickets, there was no way I was going to allow any electronic distractions. So we started out like this:

And ended up like this, 30 minutes later when we stopped at a waterfall. 
Mia isn't in the picture because she was in a time-out back on the train. Sam and Nate are clearly wishing they were too. 

On that note, we hopped on another train back to Oslo, where no one was forced to look at the scenery, and we all lived happily ever after, for the next 5 hours. 

One Last Funny story: The trains in Norway have Family Cars where there is a little play area for kids, because they are awesome like that. On the way back to Oslo, we met a kid in the family car, and when I saw him and his older sisters, I knew they were either mormon or from Utah. My mo-dar was going crazy. The boy was probably 9 or 10, and pretty soon he and my kids were playing, and it didn't take long to realize they all spoke English and came from the US. I asked him where he was from, and of course, he was from Tooele, Utah, but his family is living in Prague right now. Pretty soon he asked me if was familiar with his favorite podcast, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." I'm not making this up people. So I said, yeah, it's one of my favorites too. Then he had me to listen to his favorite episode of "Politics Takes a Holiday," a musical political satire show, which he had memorized by the way. He entertained my kids for an hour or so, and eventually we all went back to our seats. 
So now it's time to play my favorite game: 6 Degrees of Mormon Separation. Someone out there has got to know of a family from Tooele, Utah, living in Prague with 2 teenage daughters and a 9 or 10 year old son who has a thing for political satire podcasts. And please, I hope that it's your cousin's roommate's old dentist's bishop's former mission companion who lives next door to a family that moved to Prague. OK, ready? Go. 

Norway, we loved you, and your free restaurant water, and your rugged viking charm. Even Mia loved you, though it was hard to tell at the time. But you totally broke our bank account, so we'll see you again when we're millionaires. 

Next up: Final destination, Portugal. 


Courtney @ Ordinary Happily Ever After said...

Looks awesome. When Mia is she'll kick herself for not being more chipper :)

claireb said...

You kill me every time. Your caption for the woman traveling with children statue was the best though. I was rolling.

Aimee said...

I've been saving your trip round ups for a time when no one is bothering me and I can just savor every picture and word.

Finally happened tonight. Sounds like you guys had a great time. I love Mia and her tween-ness.

You are living the dream!

We miss you.

Skype date soon.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Oh Donna I love the way you write. Mike and I were extremely jealous and wishing we still lived in Norway. Or better yet, traveling with you there!
Everything you did looked so wonderful and it seems the weather was great. So many of those photos brought back strong memories for us. Even seeing you eating at Peppe's Pizza - Did you like the dipping sauce?
Biking is such a great way to see a town. I'm glad you did the tour. Thanks for the photo of our house. And thanks for the interesting post.
Brooke and Mike Lowry
ps. We had to do a double take on your first and second sentences. Was it the trolls or the vikings that reminded you of the USA? :)

Rena said...

Uhhh. What's up with red bottom shoes? In other news, Donna, can I tell you how jealous I am? I've lived in boring southern california for the last 7.5 years supporting my husband through a gazillion years of grad school. I don't even own a passport since I have no money to afford foreign travel. But my husband has promised to take me on The Sound of Music tour in Austria for our 20th wedding anniversary (because by then he'll finally have a real job). Okay, it's 10pm on Saturday night and I've yet to prepare my primary lesson because I've been too busy living vicariously through you. I love your blog. You're seriously the coolest (and someday your kids will realize it, too).

Choose Life... said...

Hi there we are planning a similar trip and wonder how you chose where to stay, eg which hostels have family rooms etc.
We only have one daughter who will be aged 7 when we plan to travel so this may make it easier.
I have loved reading bout your trip.
Best wishes

Bardsleyland said...

Hi Claire,
When looking for a place to stay, I'm searching for that magic combination of perfectly located, room for everyone to sleep, good reviews, possibly a breakfast, and a nice, affordable price tag. :)
My favorite sites for finding places to stay are Booking.com and airbnb.com. Both are really easy to navigate, and once you get registered, you can usually book things very quickly. I rely heavily on the reviews and ratings for both sites, and you can also refine your search for child-friendly places, family rooms, etc.
Booking is mainly for hotels and hostels, but you can also search for other accommodation types (just scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.)
Airbnb is just for apartments for rent by owner. I have also used HomeAway.com, and VRBO.com for apartments, and have had success with both, but I find Airbnb to generally have a faster response time.
When you are having trouble finding places in a particular location, use the official tourist website for that country or city. That's what I ended up doing for Norway, because there was not much selection on my usual sites. I can recommend the Thon hotel chain in Norway-- they are clean, good for families, and have a great breakfast.
And of course, you'll want to keep in mind if you'll need to be close to public transportation, and those kind of things. I use the map view option almost exclusively while searching for places to stay.

Anyway, best wish for your trip, and thanks for reading!