Hello again. Durning my very LONG absence here, I’ve had a nice break from the cyber world and my real life where we fill our days with too much busyness. Thank you for sticking with me this last month, while I’ve been going at very slow pace.
Norway was wonderful for us. Traveling abroad widens our perspective more than stateside travel could ever offer us. We recognize as Americans all the things we think are so important – the to-do lists, always being in a hurry, extra curricular activities, household projects, chuck-full family calendars – are the creations of our own doing and usually not necessary at all.
Norway is a simple place. Simple by design, it was a poor nation that only found wealth in the 70s and 80s with the taping of offshore oil. The “castle,” home to Norway’s monarch, is plain even though it could be ornate. There is an underlining focus of embracing life in a no frills way. Just steps outside the castle front doors I saw city folks with cross country skis strapped to their backpacks who just came off the trails and were walking down the promenade to public transportation.
Scandinavia’s family-freindly culture has intrigued me for years. The Norwegian government gives all new mothers a year paid maternity leave, and new fathers a six months paid paternity leave. Lawsuits are unheard of, murders don’t happen, everyone has access to free healthcare and there is no need for armed guards and metal detecters in schools or anywhere. Yes it is a utopia. As long as you can get over the expensive price tag of being there. With an exchange rate of 1 US Dollar being worth 5.5 Norwegian Kroner, it’s an expensive place to live and travel.
Since first traveling to Europe I always wanted to go there. But it’s so far north, that Norway is not a country you just stop into for a night into using a two week Eurorail pass. So we never went. With our neighbors/good friends living in Oslo this year with their three children, we could not pass up the awesome opportunity to go visit them.
We’ve waited eight years to travel abroad with our girls. I always thought it would be too hard, one child was too young, the expense would not outweigh the challenge of traveling with young children, eating out would be difficult, and I honestly wasn’t thrilled about giving up my idea of travel for them. Stoping in a cafe for an afternoon pint would be nearly impossible and we would spend our time visiting children’s museums and playgrounds. I wondered how dragging the kids along for long days of sightseeing would go over, relying on crowded public transportation while keeping our country mice out of harms way on busy crosswalks. Yet we all had passports in hand, knowing we would make the leap one of these days.
Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to visit friends and experience it through local eyes, I threw all my worries out the window and hoped for the best. I was willing to try. It would be worth it and it would be FUN. We emailed our neighbors to ask what they were doing the week of our girls’ Spring Break and asked if we could show up on their doorstep. They replied YES come! Their boys were on Spring Break the same week and they would have plenty of time to galavant around town with us. SOLD. Flights for our last minute trip were booked and the rest fell into place better than I could have expected. Our friends were SO happy to see some stateside friends for the first time in nine months, and welcomed us with the biggest open arms at The Hotel Zinser.
With a little help and encougement from our friends, it was a successful journey! Yes it was a lot of city walking for little legs, with lots of stops to climb up a snow banks along the way, a lot packing lunches and snacks in backpacks for a days worth of activities with a combined six kids. But we had a great adventure and it was a lesson for us all to slow down, be more in the moment, walk at a child’s pace, experience natural curiosity through a child’s eye and embrace a new thrill. Slowing down is something the Europeans do well. Americans. Not so much.
We let the Zinser boys (ages 7 and almost 11) be our tour guides in Oslo. They took us to the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, the Norsk Folkemuseum, to see real Viking ships, the Olympic Holmenkollen Ski Jump, parks for pick up games of soccer (or football over there) and a trip to the forest for sledding. From all the hugeness of a foreign place, I think the following are the simple snapshots our kids will most remember from their locals-only journey.
After spending our days navigating the city with six kids, it was extra wonderful to go back to the Zinser’s home (away from home) for downtime with tired kids and grown up time with adults. We were pampered and treated to wonderful dinners cooked by chef Kurt at the Hotel Zinser and even homemade sushi with locally caught salmon. Oh how we have missed our fun times with these neighbors living next door to us!
After five days in Oslo, our Simmons clan took off on our own Norwegian adventure. It was Norway’s Easter holiday week. Therefore we experienced a dose of local life when most all the grocery stores, shops and restaurants were closed from Thursday to Monday. On these days (as well as every normal Sunday) everyone is encouraged to be outside, hiking, skiing and spending leisure time with family.
On Easter we woke up in Flåm, after taking a family car train from Oslo to Myrdal and The Flåm Railway into Flåm. The town is merely a tourist stop for the Norway in a Nutshell fiord tour. But since this is still the off season time for travel, it was blissfully empty. We had an apartment on the water, where we woke up Easter morning. We traveled as minimalistic as possible, with two medium suitcases for five people packing winter gear and snow suits. So from the beginning I told the girls the Easter Bunny did not come to Norway. He did end up leaving one chocolate egg for each girl. They were happy, and I don’t think I’ll ever go overboard on Easter presents again.
The family train in Norway was an awesome way to travel. It had a padded playroom with a TV showing Norwegian cartoons, Norwegian children books and an activity table where the girls did things they had packed in their own backpacks. More than that, they enjoyed the children they met and played with in there from Norway and Scotland.
From there we went by boat through the fiords to Gudvangen, a bus to Voss and then a train to Bergen where it snowed while we walked to our hotel at 8:30 PM. During peak travel season the fiord tour boats are swanky and come several times a day. Since everything was mostly still frozen over there, our only option was the public transportation car ferry that made a few stops in small towns to drop off the locals. It was still an amazingly beautiful ride.
Bergen has an old, classic style train station that lacks new digital departure screens – which I loved. It also felt nostalgic about our pre-kid travel days when I found with the only pay toilet I saw in Norway. It’s the simple things.
The next day was Monday and all the local families were still off for holiday. We took the Funiclar train up the mountain to the top of Bergen where there is a park, a forest area, restaurant and tourist shop. When we bought the tickets to go up, the ticket lady told us there was activities for children happening at the park at 11:00, and our Zinser friends gave us a heads up to ask for the treasure hunt map through the forest. She looked skeptical that we could manage it because it’s all in Norwegian. But we did our best!
When we got to the top it was beautiful, even with the bright sun in our eyes. And we were treated by the snowfall the night before with beautiful snow covered evergreens, at least for a few hours until it melted.
We did figure out how to enjoy a quick pint at an outdoor cafe. We stopped in a bakery for a boller (like these) and then with them in hand, we waited till beer was ordered to hand them over to the kids. After that it was bite for sip. And then time was up! Unless ice-cream followed. Then we had time for two beers.
I popped into a textile store in this corridor and was enjoying a lovely chat with a local seamstress. Brian was outside letting the kids run like bonkers. I love the look on the lady’s face who is joyed by the sight of my girls acting like the biggest ice cream sugar filled goof heads.
After that we were back to Oslo at the Hotel Zinser for one more red carpet night and family style dinner at their apartment, where all 10 of us managed just fine sharing one bathroom.
After 12 days in Norway I felt like we earned our first European travel badge. Now we all look forward to planning our next big adventure. For nearly two years, my oldest daughter has been requesting to go to Venice, Italy. While in Norway she decided when she gets older she would like to travel in Italy and study Montessori schools (where Maria Montessori is from). Since we have been home she has taken it upon herself to put our French Muzzy DVD on the Italian setting and started learning some basic Italian vocabulary. The second part of her Italian travel desires, I must confess, comes from wanting to be in a place where spaghetti and pizza is served everywhere. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind a trip to Italy myself.