A Year In Norway
Norway: Quite possibly Heaven on Earth
Let's go on a journey together to a land of incredible beauty and wonder. To a country of nature-loving, friendly people. To a kingdom where fjords wind their way around the landscape and create pockets of civilization, nestled on the slopes of mighty mountains. A land of timeless wonder and majestic beauty. Through the midnight sun and the darks of winter. Where trolls hide under bridges and have roads named after them. Where children are born with skis on their feet. I promise, it will be a magical ride.
Image credit: Laura Peterson. Look closely at the rock on the right that juts out. There in white is the tiny image of my little (host) brother sitting on the ledge. You cannot see the rope my host father tied around him!
Stranda, Norway - A 16 year old's dream come true
Image credit laurapeterson215. Driving off the ferry with my host mother in the family's blue Volvo, I had my very first glimpse of Stranda. My host father was waiting for us, ready to capture this moment. Then he drove ahead to our house where he snapped another picture. I felt incredibly welcomed.
The journey we take might not be a typical, where to go, what to do while you are in Norway. I want to share with you my view of Norway, from when I was a 16 year old exchange student. So I may not give you all the details and historical facts, but I can give you a unique glimpse of a country that is still near and dear to my heart, 25 years later.
My journey began in July as I traveled from New York with a group of exchange students with Youth for Understanding. Once we landed in Oslo, we boarded a bus for a five hour drive through the mountains to our mountain school in HÃ¸vringen. There we learned a bit of the language and culture of Norway before heading to our host families.
When the time came to head out, my host mother picked me up from the school and we drove through the mountains to the place I would call home for the next year, Stranda. My new home was about as completely different as it could possibly be from my home in Florida. Mountains, fjords, snow. Oh and the switch backs! One of the most famous mountain passes in Norway is Trollstigen Road. Closed from around October to mid May due to snow, this 6 kilometer stretch of road is amazing and a tad nerve racking to traverse! I am only glad I wasn't driving. And the name gives you an idea of the norwegian fascination with trolls.
On to Vestland! The western side of Norway, laced with fjords and steep mountains that rise up from out of the seas in seemingly impossible steep cliffs. How could one girl be so incredibly, insanely lucky to have lived in such a place?
My Everyday Life As A Norwegian
Please indulge me as I share my personal experience of my life and the people of Norway for just a moment here. I believe that seeing this glimpse into everyday life with a family in Norway will help convey what a wonderful place it is.
I was fully immersed into everyday life with a beautiful host family. My family had 5 children, 2 of which lived at home while I lived there. One sister had traveled to the United States the year before I was in Norway so she had a pretty good understanding of both my cultural background and the challenges of being an exchange student.
My host parents were both teachers and my father was the superintendent of schools while I lived there. Every member of the Overvoll family was warm, inviting and treated me as a welcomed and loved addition to their family. I even got to know my host father's mother, bestemor. Our house was typical Norwegian, beautiful in design. And we lived on the side of a mountain with a fjord out the window. I couldn't have asked for anything more.
I went to the equivalent of a high school and took classes in Norwegian (rather challenging in the beginning since I didn't speak the language when I first went there!). My favorite class was English (taught in Norwegian, though we spoke English most of the time). Outside of school, I sang in a church youth choir and met most of my close friends there.
As I've been flipping through my photo albums, the most striking thing to me (aside from my hair and weight gain from all the incredible breads, cakes and more!) is how often I am laughing in pictures. I truly had the time of my life while living there. So often, people thought I would find their little village boring, coming from suburban Florida and Disney World. But I never did. My entire year was one of wonder and discovery and delight. To this day, my heart is filled with love and joy and fondness when I look back.
*Image credit: Laura Peterson view from my home in Stranda, Norway
Bring Norway home
There are so many Norwegian fairy tales. And more than a handful contain trolls!
A Brief Glimpse of the Language and Culture of Norway
When you live in Norway for any length of time, you learn quickly that there are two official languages, BokmÃ¥l and Nynorsk. And there are countless dialects. And people can tell exactly which county you are from (often even more specific than that) by the particular dialect you speak. I happened to live in SunnmÃ¸re and therefore spoke a dialect of nynorsk. It was amusing to me, toward the end of my stay, I was mistaken for a Norwegian preparing to be an exchange student in the United States, rather than a U.S. citizen living in Norway, because I spoke with that dialect. Most foreigners will speak BokmÃ¥l which is spoken in Oslo. Hearing a foreigner speak a dialect was a rarity. And great fun for me. While I'm rusty with my Norwegian nowadays, I still speak my dialect when I start speaking. It's what I learned! Oh, and as a side note, I highly recommend living in a country for an extended period of time as an excellent way to learn a language!
Now, for the culture...here are some fun things I encountered along the way!
- When your host mother points you to the downstairs cellar for your salmon dinner, be forewarned. You may just see salmon eyes staring up at you when you open the lid!
- Bread, bread and more bread! Oh the beautiful, scrumptious bread we baked! Fantastic! (And not so great for the waistline...)
- When you go to a Norwegian celebration, be it confirmation (a huge deal for many Norwegians), a wedding, a birthday, expect lots of cakes. I mean, LOTS of cakes. Possibly one per person. Seriously. And all delicious. Again, not so great for the waist line. But oh how I enjoyed it!
- Norwegians in general (and I hate to generalize) tend to be reserved, however, when you get to know them, they can be downright jovial and full of hilarity. They love a good joke, love to celebrate and gather with friends and love to have fun.
- The midnight sun is amazing. It really looks like noon at midnight. And it messes with your internal clock.
- In the middle of winter, dark days abound. And that also messes with your internal clock. It's dark on the way to school and dark on the way home. Way up in Northern Norway, there are a few days a year that are dark all day long.
- Knitting isn't just for women. I had several Norwegian male friends that could knit and actually knew some American exchange students, also male, that picked up knitting needles and made sweaters themselves. And students often bring knitting with them to class and knit away while the instructor is teaching. What a great way to pass the time!
- Finally, it's good to be humble, especially when your (Norwegian) English instructor reminds you that "refrigerator" is not spelled with a "d" and perhaps you were thinking of "fridge?" silly American girl?
Norwegian language and culture (and music!)
Ole and Lena jokes are quite popular...perhaps you've heard some?
Aha, that fabulous Norwegian 80's band!
All About Stranda. How I love my beautiful Stranda - Image credit: Laura PetersonClick thumbnail to view full-size
Traveling to a new place serves to shake us out of our normal patterns, to wake us up, to remind us, if only for a moment, to open our eyes to the wonder that is this life we live. ~Laura Peterson
Bergen, Drommen, Trondheim, Ãlesund, Geiranger, Oh My! - A tiny glimpse of some of the beautiful places I visited in NorwayClick thumbnail to view full-size
Norway or Bust - What is your favorite part of Norway?
Are you a mountain fan? Fjords? Or the cities? What part of Norway strikes you the most
Vigeland Park, located in Oslo, is the world's largest sculpture park made by one artist. As you stand among the statues, it's mind boggling to grasp that one man created all of them. A work of a lifetime! Gustav Vigeland created over 200 sculptures from bronze, granite and wrought iron.
Perhaps the most famous of the scuptures is Sinnataggen, Angry Boy. Below are some of my photos and a couple of postcards from the park. If you ever find yourself in Norway, make sure Vigeland Park is on your list of places to visit.
For a complete look at the park (including a brief video tour) and information about the artist , including his work at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, click here.
Vigeland Parken - Image credit, Laura Peterson with the exception of postcards from the park (noted)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Perhaps the most beautiful place on earth
I visited Geiranger Fjord with my family (it is not far from Stranda) and a friend of mine from the U.S. It is utterly breathtakingly gorgeous. Words cannot describe the place. This is one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Norway. The small town boasts 250 inhabitants and thousands of toursits each year. Cruise ships come all the way to the end of the fjord to see the spectacular beauty. For more about Geiranger Fjord click here.
Image credit: Laura Peterson
Geiranger FjordClick thumbnail to view full-size
My Skiing Experience
It wasn't picture perfect
Ok, so I had never skied in my life before coming to Norway. I was most decidely NOT born with skis on my feet. It's a bit demoralizing to ski on a mountain slope (the baby slope for very young children) and watch 3 year olds and younger zip right on past you. And even more demoralizing to have trouble using the tow rope to get to the top of the baby slope. Though really, there are no such things as baby slopes in Norway. Norwegian children are taught to ski very early (sometimes before they can walk!). They learn by standing on their parent's skis while mom or dad moves along and in this way, they learn the feel of the movement. Truly the best way to learn. Unfortunately for me, I was an almost full grown 16 year old when I first learned and probably would have broken the skis of my host parents. So I had to endure the shame of the baby slopes (I'm kidding, it was only mildly embarrassing).
I should also mention that 2 days after I tried skiing for the first time in a field near my house, I broke my ankle and was out of commission for 6 weeks or so. So my ski season was cut short. Oh and for the record, I did not break it while skiing. I broke it falling down a flight of stairs. Much classier. And it gave me the opportunity to experience firsthand the inner workings of the Norwegian hospital system.
And then when I did try to go up the big, giant, full mountain side, I fell off the tow bar mere feet from where I first got on (it was the kind that was a pole, with a disc kind of thingy attached that you didn't sit on, but you let it pull you along). Then the second time, I made it much farther, but not all the way to the top. Thankfully, my Norwegian mom was with me and hopped off where I fell and we hiked the rest of the way up the steep mountain. On the way back down, there was no way I was going to ski. No way. So, instead, she hiked with me. Down a snow covered mountain. Plunged hip deep into the snow multiple times. It's amazing I didn't break something again! But it was a good time!
And here I am, on cross country skis, actually making it down a little hill on a cross country trail. I have since been skiing a few times. I still prefer the slower pace of cross country (never been much of a daredevil) though I have gone downhill skiing with my husband once. The idea of plunging downhill at breakneck speed is still not my idea of fun. I'll take hot chocolate in the chalet any day!
Oh, and take a look at the sweater! My very first sweater, knitted all by myself. I was so proud!
Image credit: Laura Peterson, ski goddess.
The Trolls of Norway
We LOVE Jan Brett books in our house and this is one of my boys' favorites
Another fabulous troll tale with beautiful drawings by Jan Brett. My kids love this one too.