Aug 30, 2007

What kind of ice cream are you?

You Are Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

You are kind, popular, and generous.
You tend to be successful at anything you try.
A social butterfly, you are great at entertaining a crowd.

You are most compatible with strawberry ice cream.

Keepin' warm!

Did you know that Norway is the one of the world's biggest exporters of oil? In fact, it is the second largest outside of OPEC (Russia being no. 1). Pretty amazing for a small country, really.

I know, I know...one of those facts you've always wondered about...and now you're just dying to know more about the oil-producing countries of the world, right? OK, pay attention now. No falling asleep in class, you'll see soon enough where I am going with this. There is a point. I promise.

Oh, and there'll be a quiz later.

You'd think a country so awash in petroleum might also be one of the world's biggest consumers of oil. Well, to not put too fine a point on it, you'd be wrong.

Based on a highly rigorous, supremely scientific study performed while jogging up and down various residential (hilly!) streets, Norwegians much prefer another, more traditional form of heating.

I submit to you the following as evidence:

Exhibit number one



A nice chunk of firewood here...for the next 2-4 years?

Exhibit number two




Getting a bit carried away here, are we? I think the stump in the foreground speaks for itself!


Exhibit number three:



There's always the ones who just have to take it to a whole other level. Check out the custom-made rack - I am sure they are the envy of the neighbourhood.

Exhibit number four:



I am no expert on firewood, but does this seem a tad excessive to you? If you look closely, there's at least another two or three piles in the background. Wow.

Perhaps the winters in Norway are way more extreme than I remember...



...and if so, we should be worried about this little piddly pile, courtesy of my father...?

What we do on Thursdays

As soon as school is done for the day, we like to take the boys out. Sometimes we go down to Drammen, like when we went to see the new library they'd opened. Other times we check out the local area here in Konnerud. Last night, we went to see Joakim play soccer and stayed for a while afterwards to kick the ball around with the boys. We also like going for walks in the forest, and occasionally we drop in and visit family. We do stay home some afternoons, and simply hang out and watch a movie, or jump on the trampoline with the kiddies.

Having these afternoons and evenings to do with what we please is such a change from last school year, when Christopher often had to spend hours on homework each afternoon and evening. Not to mention the lovely PowerPoint presentations that always seemed to be due on a Monday, meaning another weekend gone. I blame any wrinkles and grey hair solely on Christopher's workload last year, and the stress of fighting with him to complete it.

That is exactly why we are now trying to seize every opportunity to head out in the afternoon and early evening, and are truly relishing this new found freedom.

Except every other Thursday. On those days you will not find us venturing far from our house. No matter what might be happening elsewhere, we have to stay at home. In case of an emergency, only one person can go out, the other must stay home with the kids. "Why?" you might ask. Because every other Thursday night is Ice Cream night. That's when the ice cream truck comes to visit.

As soon as we hear that telltale bell, the kids and I rush out to stop the driver from leaving again. Not that we really need to worry. With our track record, the ice cream truck now stops directly in front of our house. Clearly, he knows where the VIP customers reside. You can almost see him rubbing his hands in gleeful delight as we come charging down the walkway towards him, money in hand.

We buy boxes and boxes of ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches and popsicles in the hopes that they might last us the next fortnight. I prefer not to think about the amount of ice cream we actually consume in a week.

The very first Ice Cream Thursday we were here, we bought what I thought was a respectable amount of ice cream sure to last us the next two weeks. Boy, was I wrong! One visit from the cousins the next day, and we were almost out. The boys had gone to town in our freezer.

I lamented to my father about the ice cream shortage and my miscalculation, and that's when he confided in me that there is in fact ANOTHER ice cream truck, which comes every other Wednesday. "Why," I wondered, "had I not been told about this other ice cream truck previously?" Well, apparently not all ice cream manufacturers are equal, and my family has a favourite...

You probably know where I am going with this one already - not being connoisseurs of ice cream, we are happy to take any brand. Until one company offers us frequent buyer points or the volume discount we so clearly deserve, we are loyalty-less! That's why we now have ice cream trucks stopping in front of our house on Thursday one week and then on Wednesday the following week.

Aug 28, 2007

Benjamin's take on modern design



This way? No....




That way? Oh...




THIS is how you sit on the ultra cool chairs in the public library in Drammen!

My Favourite Things To Do

10. Having dim sum at Ambassador Restaurant in Richmond Hill
- fabulous food, good friends, lots of laughs.

9. In the hammock in my backyard on a hot summer day
- the sun's rays playing with the leaves on the maple trees. Bees buzzing (but staying away), birds chirping. Kids playing nicely in the pool. Ah, summer in Canada.

8. On the front step of our house here in Norway after a nice, long run




- sitting with my bottle of water, enjoying the quiet of the morning after the kids have gone off to school.

7. Blogging on my computer
- believe it or not, but it is fun to just make things up, like this post, and let the mind wander.

6. On the couch with a good book, a glass of wine and some cheese
- no kids interrupting the tranquility (sorry boys).

5. Sitting around the kitchen table - any kitchen table - with a close girlfriend and a pot of steaming hot tea
- minor problems and major global crises have been solved over a good cup of tea and a few biscuits. World leaders should take note!

4. On the trampoline with the boys, who are laughing at me because I cannot do any of their fancy tricks
- love the sound of their laughter (as long as I am not on the couch with a good book and a glass of wine).

3. Having family over for casual, last minute dinners
- I have not been able to do this for so many years, so this is a real thrill for me! The only drawback is the need to cook the actual meal. If only Norway would embrace take-out food a bit more, I could do this every night.

2. Planning the next great adventure with my husband
- poring over maps, guide books and various Internet sites, figuring out new places to go, either here, or out of country. Sometimes our plans are small and manageable, such as a weekend visit to Sweden. Other times we dream big, like doing the marathon on the Great Wall of China.

1. Getting a chance to sit back and really appreciate all the good things in life
- you know those moments when you have to pinch yourself because you suddenly see clearly how very lucky you are? Family and friends are all happy and healthy. Life is good!

xox

Heidi

PS: Now tell me yours...

Aug 27, 2007

Wading...


wade (wd)
v. wad·ed, wad·ing, wades
v.intr.
1. To walk in or through water or something else that similarly impedes normal movement.
2. To make one's way arduously: waded through a boring report.
v.tr.
To cross or pass through (water, for example) with difficulty: wade a swift creek.
n.
The act or an instance of wading.
Phrasal Verb:
wade in/into
To plunge into, begin, or attack resolutely and energetically: waded into the task.

The weekend was spent with Granny Libby, Grandad and Auntie Katherine, also known as the Wades, minus Uncle Alistair, who had to stay home in the UK and work.

We had a lovely visit with them on Thursday, when they drove out to see us from their hotel in Oslo. The weather was glorious, so we decided to wade up to a view point not far from where we live. Well, if you ask B boy, it is quite far and with a very steep ascent. He spent a bit of time complaining about the wade, but did finally make it to the top. The view was spectacular - we could see bits of Oslo and even Holmenkollen ski jump in the distance.



Saturday morning the Wades arrived in Drammen yet again, this time to spend the rest of the weekend with us. Once more they brought wonderful weather with them, so considering how thrilled Benjamin had been to wade uphill on Thursday, we decided to wade downhill instead, into Drammen. It is not a long wade. Perhaps 5 km, and, like I said, it is all down hill. Moreover, keeping Benjamin busy discussing the finer points of all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies - not to mention having him reenact particularly gripping scenes - kept complaints to an absolute minimum, and we made it down to the town in no time.

Weekends are busy in Drammen, and this Saturday was no exception. We waded around a bit and then moved on to the lovely riverbank that has been redeveloped along one side of the river. The newly planted grass and miniature beaches looked really nice, and we spent some time sitting on the grass eating fresh fruit and watching the kids goof off.



Or maybe just looking the other way and pretend not to see the kids goofing off...

We could not imagine wading UP the hill with the kiddies, and thus took the bus back to our house. Since our children are not used to taking public transit, this was quite a highlight, and a fight almost broke out over who got to pull the string to signal the bus driver to please stop. A prolonged battle was only avoided by promising to take another bus in the near future.

Grandad and Mike got up early to hit the golf course on Sunday, and upon their return we packed a picnic - my first - and headed into Oslo and Vigelandsparken, where we met up with Granny Libby's niece Barbara, her husband Terje and their two lovely kids. That's when I realized that picnics can be taken to a whole other level, and my salami-n-cheese sandwiches just do not cut it. Barbara brought a freshly made pasta salad and a home-made, absolutely delicious chocolate and custard layer cake. Needless to say, Mike was very happy and helped himself to two rather large slices.

Both Christopher and Benjamin proved to be very good with the younger kids, and B boy was particularly taken with Barbara's one-year-old girl, Ella. She is a fantastically good-natured little girl, who was thrilled to have Benjamin guide her around the park. Christopher, meanwhile, was happy to kick the soccer ball around with four-year-old David. Made me think that our kids really are getting older...and whatever does that say about us... :(



The park was incredibly busy, undoubtedly because of the fabulous weather. Vigelandsparken is dedicated to famed Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. It consists of some 200 granite and bronze sculptures of human beings of all ages engaging in various human pursuits, including running, dancing, hugging, holding hands, etc. The most surprising aspect of the sculptures to newcomers is perhaps the fact that the sculptures are all of naked people. Once you have been to the park a few times you no longer notice this, but it is striking the first time you see the sculptures.



I had mentioned this nakedness to Benjamin when talking about a particularly famous sculpture in the park, called "Sinnataggen" or "The little angry boy". This is a wonderful sculpture of a small boy clearly in the throes of a severe temper tantrum. The expression on his face is captured so perfectly that any parent, I think, can recognize it from personal experience. Mike and I wanted a shot of the boys next to Sinnataggen (for no other reason than to prove to ourselves that life really has gotten easier now that the boys are somewhat more receptive to reason), but as we started moving in the direction of the sculpture, Benjamin decided to throw a mini-tantrum of his own. He did not, in any way, shape or form, want to be photographed next to the "naked, angry boy". Christopher was slightly more accommodating, but made me promise not to show any pictures of him with the "naked boy" to others. And not to post them on my blog. He was particularly clear about the blog ban, so I am honouring his request.



At the end of the day we said goodbye to the Wades, who were heading out to an airport hotel for the night, planning to catch an early morning flight back to the UK the next day. We will see them again in just 5 weeks, but it was nevertheless great to be able to catch up for a few days here in Norway. It was also very nice to see Barbara again, and hopefully we will be able to get our kids together again soon.

Aug 24, 2007

Status Report - Week 1

Christopher came home from school with a friend today. Oh happy days! I can't remember ever being so happy to hear that a friend of the boys was coming over. So far, Christopher has handled this transition with amazing ease. He does all his homework in Norwegian and has made several friends already. And he almost only speaks to me in Norwegian! Wow!

Benjamin is still working on making close friends, but he is happy to go to school (he has rated the school a 9 out of 10), and plays with most kids, even if he does not actually speak with them. It is amazing how kids find a way to talk without a common language. And let's not forget that he has a birthday party to go to tonight.

We always knew the jump to a Norwegian school would be a little harder for B boy. Speaking almost no Norwegian, he does not have the linguistic foundation Christopher has. He is also not as socially aware as Christopher, and can be quite shy. Unlike his big brother who does not understand the meaning of that word.

Still, all in all, I have to say that this has been a great week. One of our hopes for this trip is that the boys get a good grip on the Norwegian language, and I have to say that at this rate, we will have reached our objective well before Christmas.

Aug 23, 2007

Hallermoen

Try picturing this: A handful of single-story, brown wooden buildings with brightly coloured doors scattered around a playground in a clearing, and surrounded by large, mature trees in a small forest. An obstacle course with huge logs used as balance beams, ropes and wooden ladders off to one side of the buildings. On the other, in another small clearing, a soccer pitch has been marked out with gravel.

Can you see it with your inner eye? Leaves fluttering gently in the summer breeze...the sun's rays peeking through the tree tops. Serenity reigns - until the bell rings.

Out run 450 students with excess energy to burn off for the next 15 minutes. They attack the slides on the wooden playground with gusto. Launch an assault on the climbing frames erected around the slides, and jump on the balance beams with an agility indicating that this is not the first time. Down in the smaller clearing, the older boys have taken their shirts off on the warm day, and are continuing the soccer game from yesterday's recess.

The screams of joy, occasionally a shout of pain. Young voices everywhere.

Then the bell rings again. Children rushing this way and that way as their classroom doors open, and they are swallowed up by the little brown buildings. Peace and tranquility fall yet again over Hallermoen elementary school. You can almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the trees that yet another recess is over.

I cannot conceive of anything more idyllic than this setting for a school.


Aug 22, 2007

One more...and this one is for Morag!

I am not sure where I am going with this one...help me out?

Aug 21, 2007

A writer...me?

All right...I admit it: I have a fascination with words. Some - many - might call it an obsession. I love cleverly coined expressions, plays on words, unexpected phrases etc. Words often take centre stage in our family. My husband is an academic with several publications behind him, and I also work with language as a professional - and occasionally here in Norway unprofessional - translator. Sometimes, our sense of humour makes others shake their heads. We get a kick out of double entendres, while misspellings in papers or typos in books can get us all worked up. I can read a beautifully written phrase over and over again. It all gets a bit pathetic at times.

However, despite this interest, I have never thought myself particularly good with words. Instead, I admire others for their skill and wish I could do the same. I am a "wanna-be" linguist. A try hard. Not a natural at all.

Come to think of it, it is kind of like my singing. I love to sing but cannot carry a tune. However, that is another story altogether.

Since the advent of my blogging efforts, rumour has it that some of my friends are a little wary of commenting on my entries here in blogosphere. The term "intimidated" was used. Yikes. I was floored to hear that anything I do or say could possibly be taken that seriously. I never knew that I could be intimidating. Me? The "wanna-be"?!

Let me clarify that my friends have all been so sweet in sending me emails complimenting my blog, and a few even think it is well written on occasion. But some felt awkward adding their comments directly on the blog, fearing that their comments might look "second rate" (and yes, that is a direct quote). I can see why people could feel uncomfortable having their comments read by strangers, but since I do not expect my blog to be read by anyone other than those with a special interest in our Norway adventure - and let's face it, that number is exceedingly low - I just never considered that posting a comment could be intimidating. But my eyes have now been opened.

So, I've spent the last several days mulling this over, trying to figure out if there is anything I can do to make people more at ease. In addition to milking the situation at home, of course. Mike would concur that almost everything I now say to him either starts or ends with something akin to "I am a great writer, you know...". A conversation might go something like this:

Mike: "Heidi, could you pass the milk, please?"
Me: "...sorry?"
Mike: "The milk, could you pass it, please?"
Me: "Oh, sure, here you go."
Mike: "Thanks. You seem distracted?"
Me: "Hmmm...just thinking about my next blog entry. Even great writers have to plan a little, you know..."


...or...

Christopher: "Mamma, I don't have any clean PJ's!"
Me: "OK. What would you like me to do about it?"
Christopher: "Did you wash some?"
Me: "No, I am sorry. I was too busy working on my craft."
Christopher: "Pappa - mamma is being strange again. Where are my PJ's?"

You get the idea. Things have gotten a little out of hand at home. I must reel in the ego a bit.

I did consider posting a completely unedited entry, one of those "train of thought" posts where I'm just writing about anything and everything that pops into my head. That way everyone could see just how scattered and disorganized I can be. I decided against doing it because it was pointless; the point is that I do like to review my entries before posting (unlike my children in their schoolwork, I might add).

But I think the charm of posting comments is that people can respond instinctively to whatever is written in the original post or someone else's reaction to it. Sometimes a post or comment can get a dialogue started about something that is of interest to several people. It is not about spelling, phrasing or sentence structure. Gawd, we do enough of that when dealing with our kids' homework!

So my solution to it all: Welcome to my world - this is what cracks me up at the moment.


Signs in Norway

Exhibit number one:



Seen on a cattle transport truck. Doesn't it just make you want to run out and buy a big, juicy steak?

Exhibit number two:


Indeed...the question I suppose all young Norwegian guys are asking themselves: Is spilling her better than simply dumping her?!

Exhibit number three:



Is it Stu who is bad, or is everything just plain awful in this washroom?

Clearly, everything can be twisted, and text is always whatever you choose to take from it, not necessarily what the author intended. So let's just have fun with it!

Aug 20, 2007

And so it begins...



...the very first day of school here in Norway. We came along for the ride, even though kids most often go to school unaccompanied in these areas. Christopher had not slept all that well, and was a little nervous this morning. I don't blame him. Going into grade 5 as a new kid can't be easy. I changed schools a few times myself growing up, and I clearly remember that sinking feeling in your gut as you walk into a classroom and feel like everyone is staring, assessing you and what you're worth. Yuk. Of course, Christopher also had to deal with a new language and a school system he is completely unfamiliar with.

The things we do to our kids!

Benjamin was, in his own words "scared, excited and nervous", but while Christopher was dragging his feet a bit, making the 2 minute walk to school twice as long (yes, a full 4 minutes), Benjamin trodded along seemingly without a care. Funny, I always figure B boy to be the one who needs my guidance and support, whereas Christopher usually lands with his feet on the ground. Today, however, I have to say that I was so proud of my baby boy. Even though he speaks next to no Norwegian, he walked into that classroom as if he had done so a million times before. He sat down in the middle of a bench, with new kids all around him and clearly tried to follow what the teacher said. I was amazed.

We left the kids at the school for the school day, which turned out to be only three hours long. It was a type of orientation day. As we returned at noon, Christopher was waiting for us, excited to tell us that he had made a new friend, and wanted to know what our address was. Apparently, he had been asked where he lives and realized he has no idea! Bad mommy! He also requested a cell phone ASAP, so he can call us next time he is going to stay after school to play soccer with the other kids. Music to my ears. We'll have to see about that cell phone, though...

Benjamin rated the school a 9 out of 10. His class of 23 students has a blueberry picking trip scheduled for Wednesday, which he is excited about. The only problem is that he doesn't like blueberries. I guess he'll have to learn.

All in all, a successful day. Christopher was not the only one who did not sleep well last night, and I dare say most of us will be sleeping soundly tonight!

Aug 19, 2007

We did it!



Having said goodbye to the Yims early on Saturday, we did not want B boy and Christopher to spend the day worrying about starting a brand new school on Monday, and were therefore looking for a distraction for both of them. We asked my sister if Benjamin could visit his cousin Mathias, and since older brother Joakim was away at a weekend soccer camp, Mathias was only too happy to have company.

Christopher, meanwhile, was enticed into joining our second attempt to conquer Gaustatoppen, the highest mountain in the county of Telemark, some 2.5 hours drive from here. My parents also joined us for the trek, and we set off immediately after Mike returned from dropping off HY and kids at the airport.

Gaustatoppen is famous for offering an impressive view from its summit. Under ideal circumstances, this view encompasses some 60 000 square kilometres, roughly one sixth of Norway. While driving towards the mountain, we did notice cloud cover, but nothing like what we had experienced on our first attempt to do this trek two weeks ago. In fact, in between clouds, the sun would actually peek out for a while. We were optimistic!

As we reached the starting point for our trek, we quickly realized that we were not the only ones taking advantage of the good conditions of the day. The parking lot was full, and a steady stream of people could be seen walking up a very well-marked path. Clearly, hardy Norwegians do not consider this hike to be much of a challenge, as several young children, some even younger than Christopher, were bouncing up the path next to their parents.



The path started out easy enough, in lush green landscape with a few rocky outcrops here and there, and the odd sheep with accompanying bell. Nothing much to it. Sure we had to jump a stream or two, but it was all in a day's work. Our destination for the day was the radio tower visible in the far distance in both pictures immediately above and below, and at this pace, we believed we would reach it very quickly.



As we came around the bottom of the mountain, however, the path changed to become more rocky, and only continued to do so for the remainder of the trek. Christopher loved jumping from rock to rock, but this was a little harder for older hips and joints, so we saw quite a few hot and flustered faces on our way. The pace slowed quite a bit, but we still soldiered on.




My father - an ironman who gives the impression that he could run up the side of Mt. Everest without losing a stride - showed his impressive Norwegian genes and tackled the rocks with the energy of a much younger man. We expected nothing less, as this is the same man who often plays 2 x 18 holes a day in the summer, and has been known to ski 50 km cross country in the winter time.



My mother, on the other hand, is from Denmark. For those familiar with Denmark, that should say it all when it comes to mountain trekking. For those of us who are not, suffice to say that the highest "peak" in Denmark is 170 metres. Although she has lived in Norway for several years now, this was actually her first real climb, and with Gaustatoppen's 1883 metres, she picked quite a big one to start with! We were all surprised at how rocky the trek was, but she persevered without complaint and made everyone proud!

Seeing as our pace had been slowed by the rocky nature of the climb, we decided to stop for lunch half way through our hike. Cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, and grapes provided a great break for us. Not to forget the chocolate. There can be no trip for our family without chocolate, and we had brought a double dose this time. Chocoholics should take note that chocolate tastes even better in fresh mountain air! Hae Yung should also pay attention to the very snazzy coffee cups used by my parents for the first time on this trek, and visible in the picture below. They worked perfectly, and were just the right size for a quick cup of coffee on our way up.



The Norwegian Trekking Association keeps a staffed cottage close to the summit of Gaustatoppen, where people who are hiking over several days can spend the night. Those of us simply doing a day trek can also purchase a cup of hot chocolate and deliciously home-made waffles to get a little sustenance before starting the trip down the rocky path again.

I had wondered whether those working at the cottage cafe had to climb up the mountain every morning, only to hike down again at night. Can you imagine climbing a mountain as your daily commute?! That's a little different from the DVP...However, the girls at the cottage actually hike up once and stay for two months at a time. That makes more sense, of course, but it does mean that they have to hike up with a 15 kg. backpack on their backs, so they have clothing to last them those 8 weeks. Still, I cannot imagine a more beautiful place to work and I am sure they think it is absolutely worth it.



The weather had been steadily improving during our climb up, witnessed by our gradual shedding of clothing, and when we finally reached the cottage, the sun was shining and the views were truly spectacular. I got quite a zen-feeling looking out at the amazing vistas. Everywhere you turned, you could see rugged snow-covered mountains, glaciers, mountain lakes, valleys with huge rivers running through them and little towns perched on hillsides.

The peak at Gaustatoppen is another 20 minute hike from the cottage, and consists of climbing a ridge of fairly large rocks. Since the difference in height between that and the cottage is minimal, many hikers simply make the cottage their destination, and I would not recommend the actual peak for those with a fear of heights, as the drop on either side is steep in places. As such, we left Christopher and Mormor at the cottage while Mike, Bestefar and I hiked the final few metres. I was happy Christopher had not come along because I found the final stretch quite challenging, but at last we did it!



It was another great adventure, and best of all, I woke up today without feeling sore! Maybe the morning runs up those pesky hills around here are actually doing some good! Speaking of which, I should probably go for one...!

Aug 18, 2007

Goodbye!



If we could, we would have kept you here with us for the entire 9 months!



Safe travels...

Aug 16, 2007

Boating it...


The final full day at the cottage, and we decided to take a drive to the west of Norway, to see one of the smaller fjords, called Nærøyfjord. It is an arm off Sognefjorden, the longest and deepest fjord in the world.

The drive seemed to go by fairly quickly, as we admired the landscape that passed by outside our windows. To get to the other side of the country we had to drive over mountain passes, and once we reached the top we saw glacier ice and snow just a few meters away. The land itself was barren and harsh-looking and virtually lacking in human activity, except for a few cottages scattered along the way. The water looked absolutely pure and sparkling clean, almost green in colour, and really, really cold. It reminded me of the pictures you see on very expensive bottles of imported water. I suppose the water temperature was close to freezing, seeing as it was mostly run-off from melting glaciers.

As we came down the other side of the mountains, through what seemed like never-ending tunnels, a truly magnificent vista opened itself up to us. Pictures really do not do the landscape any justice, but here's an attempt anyway:



Although this is perhaps not the most beautiful fjord in Norway, it does claim to be the narrowest one, and has been included by UNESCO on the World Heritage List. Thus, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Norway, something we can now vouch for! We arrived at Flåm hoping to take the 1:20 boat to Gudvangen, only to be told that the boat was full. Instead, we were booked on the 3:10 boat.

However, this actually worked out to our advantage, as we decided to have lunch in Flåm instead of on the boat, and proceeded to spend a bit of time exploring this beautiful little village, with a population of 500. I cannot imagine how many tourists it caters to in a typical year, but judging from our experience, I would guess that this is in the hundreds of thousands.



After lunch and a quick stroll back to the car to get extra sweaters for the ferry ride, we leisurely walked towards the docks, only to see that there was already a lineup to get onto the ship. This was only about 40 minutes before departure time, but we had been told by the ticketing agent that this particular cruise was almost empty, and we were therefore surprised at the crowds.

Seeing as we had four children and really wanted to get decent seats for them, we immediately joined the queue. Or so we thought. The line snaked its way up to a souvenir store, and then made a 180 degree turn and down the other way again. To complicate matters further, the line was very skinny to begin with, with people lining up one by one, and fattened out further down, where it was several families thick. It is difficult to describe, as it was a little confusing to say the least. Mike commented that this lack of organization was highly un-Norwegian, and I have to agree. I would have thought the lines to be more "regimented", considering how many times a day cruises take off from the village.

Things got really interesting when a group of...ehem...Asian...tourists picked the middle of the line up as their group meeting point. People started dropping out of the queue to move toward the front entrance of the ferry, where there was still space since the beginning of the line was so skinny. Hae Yung and I began to get a bit concerned, but we continued to stand in line until it became obvious that we were now pretty much the last ones in the official queue. At that point, we left proper line-up culture by the wayside, grabbed our kids by the hand and pushed our way into the throng in front of the ferry.

Never stand between two mothers and their destination, is all I can say, because when all was said and done, the boarding completed and seats found, we pretty much had the best view possible! Top deck, right side, all we had to do was kick back and relax!



The trip itself was scheduled to take 2 hours, and the kids loved every minute of it. They saw huge waterfalls cascading down hundreds of meters. Cute little towns with only 10-12 houses, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Farms up mountain sides that looked so steep, that you might fall right off the land if you tried to work it. Even cottages at the top of mountains, completely solitary and with no obvious way of getting to them. It was a spectacular trip.

Of course, the highlight of the trip for the kids was the cafeteria(!) on the lower deck, which sold hot chocolate, pancakes and other goodies. Samantha and Christopher were down there several times, occasionally joined by Nathan and Benjamin.



Hae Yung and I did not leave our seats, however, as we were quite mesmerized by the beautiful scenery. The only thing drawing our attention away from the landscape passing us by was the constant squeals of delights emanating from our left. As we turned to see where the sound was coming from, we saw a family of...ehem...Asians delightedly throwing bread overboard, to seagulls flying alongside us! That's right! Forget about the scenery, let's feed the birds instead. They were even filming the birds as they swooped down to catch bits of bread. I have to say, their thrill and excitement was quite endearing, and I almost forgave them for the bits of bread that landed in our hair, on the ground around our chairs, and even in poor Christopher's eye. I only wonder why they chose to spend $150 dollars to do this on a fjord cruise, when they could have done just as well from the docks!



Mike had taken this cruise a few years earlier, with the Wades, so he offered to forego the boat ride this time, and drive to meet us in Gudvangen instead. This way, we saved an hour or so because we didn't have to take a bus back to pick up our car. Probably a good thing, as the kids were quite happy to get back to the cottage and hang out a bit before bed time!

Hiking it...

First full day at the cottage, and all the kids, with the exception of Nathan, were up early! B boy was persuaded to give sleep another try, but Samantha and Christopher were rearing to go, so they joined Mike and I for a drive down to the small town of Ål, to pick up a few provisions. After all, one pizza can only get us so far. Even with kids who do not eat...



In town, we stocked up on essentials such as bread, bread and bread. Throw in a bit of bread, and we were all set. The kids had an ice cream while we waited for the local sports store to open. Nothing like a nutritious breakfast to kick off the day! As soon as the doors open, we marched in with a mission: Christopher received a small scouts knife from his grandparents three years ago, and B boy had been waiting for his own ever since. We told him he had to wait until he was 7, foolishly thinking that by then he would have calmed down and become responsible enough to handle one! Well, he was now holding us to that promise! After all, it had been a full two days since he turned 7.

World beware. Benjamin is now armed! Fortunately, the store had enough knives for B boy, Nathan and Samantha. They even had a special girl knife for Samantha that we got pretty excited about.

Well back at the cottage, everyone was now up. We had breakfast - bread. Then we packed our bags and got ready for the goal of the day: Hiking up a mini-mountain. Benjamin, Mike and I had hiked up this hill a few years earlier, and we thought it would be a good challenge for the kiddies.

So into the car we went again, as we felt it safer to drive to our starting point. True trekkers would have walked there, of course, but who are we kidding...! Besides, we didn't want to completely discourage our kids from ever hiking again.



I think we were all a tiny bit worried about how the kids would react to this adventure, and perhaps especially Nathan,who is not known to be the most outdoorsy type. And in fairness to all the kids, we are not talking about some manicured, grassy hill you simply skip up. This is a rough part of the country, with loads of bushes to push through, streams to jump over, and rocks to climb over. But we needn't have worried. Just as in past situations, the kids all rose to the occasion, and Nathan in particular shone as he was the first one to start the trek uphill, and the first to reach the "summit". Much to the pride of his mommy, and totally well-deserved!

In fact, I suspect Hae Yung at one point thought we had bitten off more than we could chew, as she hiked up the rocky side of the hill. She is adamant in her claim that she had to use both hands and feet to hang on to the side, and believes that at that point the hill had an incline of at least 75 degrees. Interesting that no one else had that experience, but perhaps she took a more advanced route to the top :)



After our arduous hike, it was time to put our newly purchased scouts knives to use, so we organized a picnic lunch and proceeded to walk to a place where we knew there was a fire pit created out of rocks. The kids all sharpened their sticks and grilled hot dogs over the fire, followed by dough that is baked on the same sticks into (somewhat burned) bread, and finally marshmallows.






The evening saw the weather changing a bit from sun to rain, so it was spent indoors. After that much activity, the kids were only too happy to be allowed to spend some quality time on the couch, with their beloved Nintendo DS's. And we were quite happy to sit back with some wine and a couple of good books.

Aug 15, 2007

Roughing it...

Sunday morning, bright and early, we packed the car and headed off to the mountains. OK...perhaps it was closer to noon and seeing as the car has zero trunk space once the extra seats are up, packing was a breeze. A few shirts, pj's, jackets for all, rain boots and/or hiking boots, and one pizza. That's right. One pizza. That was all the space we had.

Fortunately, my thoughtful parents had made a stop at the cottage earlier in the week, and had kindly stocked it with enough essentials to last a meal or two in style. Read: red wine and brie cheese. Oh, and milk, cereal and hot dogs for the kids. We were good.

The weather up to the cottage was overcast, which was a little disappointing as the drive is quite spectacular on good days. I am fairly sure Hae Yung tired of hearing me saying "This is really a pretty area when it is sunny". Perhaps I was a bit overzealous in my attempts to be a good host, but she got the idea. Or else she just pretended, because she nodded frequently and appeared to be imagining how beautiful a certain mountain might really be without the clouds obscuring it. Fortunately, by the time we got to Ål, Hae Yung no longer had to be subjected to my constant barrage of apologetic comments, because the sun was peeking out through the layers of cloud. When we finally ascended the mountain and arrived at our destination, the weather was positively glorious.

This is what we saw as we arrived:




My parents had asked us to be sure to admire the roof this time around, as it had recently been redone, and the kids were all very impressed. Having seen it in previous years, I have to admit it did look exceptionally green and healthy. Nathan wanted to know how the grass on the roof was mowed, and Mike told him that all we do is put a sheep up on the roof to eat the grass. He was quite excited about this prospect.

The kids immediately went exploring, and true to form, Christopher was more than happy to be a guide. He bravely led them across the marshy area below the cottage, to a rocky section where we usually grill hot dogs "au naturelle". We were quite pleased that they managed to get across without getting too wet, as that has proven to be a challenge in years past. Perhaps it was Hae Yung's super rain boot purchase at Winners (at a famous $3.00 a pair) that made all the difference.



As the adults tanned themselves and enjoyed a well-deserved glass of vino on the deck, the kids discovered a couple of sheep in front of the cottage, which provided much excitement. Nathan and Benjamin were content to observe from afar, whereas Christopher and Samantha bravely ventured out to communicate across species, much to our amusement. As soon as the sheep showed the slightest bit of interest in their presence, both kids turned around and bolted back to the safety of the cottage deck!!




It was a fun day, and after having enjoyed our one pizza for dinner (ok, then, some hot dogs, too), we waited for the sun to set. As darkness fell all around us, we ventured out for some traditional moose hunting, only equipped with the weakest flashlights you could possibly imagine. Samantha had a firm grip on Mike's hand, while Benjamin and Nathan played flashlight tag. The moose stayed away, which is hard to comprehend, considering the racket that preceded us where ever we went.



After much fresh air activity, the kids were tired and ready to go to bed in the "hems", which is a type of open attic typical of Norwegian cottages. Nathan eventually decided that he would rather sleep in his mommy's bed, but Samantha was quite happy to sleep between Christopher and B boy.