A Taste of Home

On Friday, the 20th of September, Bergen was invaded by Americans. And not by just any ol’ Yanks…My parents and family friends, the Sankos.

I rushed into town from work to meet them at their hotel and with perfect timing made it there RIGHT as their Flybussen was dropping them off. Of the entire week that they were here, I think this moment was my favorite. Just that pure joy of seeing my parents after so long and knowing that I would get to show them all of the things I love about Norway. It’s a good thing they brought their walking shoes, cause I had an itinerary that was not intended for the weak. I let them take a mini break, since they did just travel for 12+ hours…but then it was chop chop! Outside! The sun was out and so were we! First stop: Nordnesparken for a lovely walk and a beautiful sunset.

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The next day we made the trip up to Fløyen. As soon as we got on the Funicular, it started raining, of course. Thanks Obama. But after waiting just a few minutes at the top, the wind took away the clouds and rain leaving only the breathtaking view of Bergen. It was so much fun. I got to use the view as a 3D map to point out all of the places I have talked about and we even got to play with some trolls.

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The rest of the weekend was spent with some more typical Bergen sight-seeing: Bryggen, Bergenhus Festning, and of course! The sweater shops!

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My beautiful mother at the top of Rosenkrantz Tower

On Monday, we got out of Bergen to see what Norway has to offer outside of the city with an adventure to Flåm on the Flåmsbana. It was such a cool train ride with twists and turns and views of waterfalls, beautiful mountains, and those random houses that make you wonder, “Who actually lives there?” The way back was by boat down the largest fjord in Norway, Sognefjord. Again, pictures cannot do justice the beauty that we saw on this ferry back to Bergen. If ever you want a moment where you awe at nature with such ferocity that you leave a puddle of drool…plan a trip to Norway.

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Mom and Mrs. Sanko in Flåm nature

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On Tuesday, I let the kids go play on their own as I went to work. It was an interesting experience, going to work on my birthday…I think I’ll avoid it from now on. It was so wonderful though, to get to spend my special day with my parents and friends. I made us some rommegrot and Mrs. Sanko, my fellow chocolate lover, made sure I had brownies for my birthday cake as I was serenaded “Happy Birthday” outside my dorm building. The rest of the evening was spent doing my new favorite activity, walking in the Norwegian nature. Now my parents can picture my surroundings when I tell them I am going for a quick run around the lake, or park, or to see the Fantoft Stavekirke, and I think that is just so cool.

While everyday of the week was an adventure with my parents, Wednesday was a bit different. It was an adventure with food. We Americans got all dolled up and went to the harbor to wait for some guy in a boat. (If you’re Alexis Smith, you’ll understand this as being comparable to meeting the tour group by The Stairs outside of the Vatican…but Bergen is much smaller than Rome, so this was a lot easier.) This guy with the boat happened to be the owner of the restaurant we were going to and drove us, along with 15 employees of Norway’s ‘small’ oil company Statoil, to an island close by. This island is occupied by only this restaurant, Cornelius, and one residence.

As we ate some raw salmon, scallops (that were still moving), and oysters, we listened to the crazy story of how this man acquired such a swank place. It was a crazy story, and I’m not sure how much of it was true…also some of it was in Norwegian. I would try and relay it, but it’s one of those stories where only a certain person can tell it to give the full effect. I can tell you it includes a fish farm, death, betrayal, Seattle, and a rascal of a man. We ate a scrumptious three-course meal as the sun set behind the hills of Hordaland. Sigh.

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It really didn’t hit me that my parents were here until they left. I thought that their visit would be a nice ‘refresher’ and that it would dispel the hint of homesickness I had been feeling. Quite the opposite happened. Now that I have had that taste of home, I feel more homesick. I still love it here in Bergen and am looking forward to my next three months here and the adventures I will undoubtedly have, but I realized how much I really do miss the United States and those people I love that are there. Skype is great, but it can’t give you that hug that one only gets from their mama or that big bear hug a dad gives.

Something to remember: The world is so small. Check out what I found in a local antique shop. Maybe Illinois isn’t so far away after all.

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A Norwegian Walk in the Park

IMG_1211“Norwegians don’t climb up mountains, they push them down.” -a phrase exclaimed this past weekend during the first incline up Romsdalseggen,a mountain ridge in Åndalsnes. I’m not sure that I pushed any mountains down, but I sure did last the 8 hour hike, peaked over cliffs, and used chains to keep my balance as I scaled the mountains during some pretty steep trails. Yes, you may now call me Mountain Woman Meredith. This epic hike was my 4th in the past month, and it made the other three seem like a simple walk in the park.

Week One was Mt. Ulriken (again) followed by Preikestolen during Week Two at IAESTE’s Stavanger Weekend. Preikestolen is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Norway, and I can definitely see why. Pictures can’t do the cliff justice (although, I’ll still show one here), and the overall thrill of sitting at the edge is like no other. There is no railing, no air mattresses at the bottom…no safety anything. Just a 600 meter vertical drop to the ever-so-beautiful Lysefjord. If this was in the United States, there would definitely be a whole fence and safety guards there patrolling. Norway is much simpler. Be smart, or die.

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Week Three included a lovely evening hike after work. When you’re surrounded by nature, it’s quite easy to squeeze in a trek on a weekday. And if I’ve learned anything from the people of Bergen, it’s that good weather is NEVER to be wasted. You must use your time wisely and get outside! So that is what my Swiss colleague and I did. We got outside and walked up Fløyen to enjoy Bergen from greater heights.

I’m surprising myself with how much enjoyment I get from these outdoor activities. “City girl” exploring the mystical thing that is Nature. I’m still pretty naive to all this “outdoors stuff” and I tend to ask silly questions like, “Do you go on hikes like this often (the 8 hour one)?” To which I got some reply like, “Everyday after work,” or “This is how I commute to and from work.” Now, you can imagine, gullible me, eyes wide, like WHAT? REALLY? An 8-hour hike is not an everyday, weekday activity. Duly noted and I will not be fooled again!DSCN1128

On top of the 8 hour hike, I also did some canyoning this past weekend (IAESTE’s Mountain Weekend). You know, propelling down the sides of rocks, tight rope walking between ledges and zip-lining into 8°C water. Confession: I was extremely nervous the entire time, but thankfully my brain was like, ‘Meredith, there’s no other way down. You just gotta do it!’ And I’m really glad I did. The one thing I regret was not jumping from 11 meters. I did the 2 and the 5, but decided that I had hit my limit on outdoor activities there. I’m feelin’ only 22. I’ve got time to test my fear of jumping from high places into really cold water.

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About to look in the face of danger (and scream).
Photo courtesy of Dimitri Tschense

To end the weekend right, the Mountain Weekend IAESTE committee made us all dinner fit for vikings. We feasted on homemade rømmegrøt and various meats and homemade bread. I gotta tell ya, these Norwegians know their stuff when it comes to bread. We feasted in a setting that is exactly what I imagined Norway to look like. Mountains, waterfalls, grass on the roofs, antlers attached to the front of the old, wooden house (more like hut).

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These weekends that the IAESTE committees plan are so great because you get to meet people from all over the world and bond pretty quickly since you’re doing such crazy things (and probably need some moral support). What’s sad about these weekends is that once Sunday comes, the reality is that you will probably never see these new friends ever again and Facebook can only do so much. Now, with any large group, you won’t ‘click’ with everyone, making this okay…but for others, you find yourself thinking, ‘Dang! We would be such good friends if we lived near each other, or went to the same school, or this or that!’ and you’re left with just a friend-crush. For those of you who don’t know the term, a friend-crush is when you meet someone that you want to be good friends with, but aren’t. It’s similar to a regular crush in that it’s usually something that you can’t have, cause then you’d be friends already, but it’s in no way romantic.

So, to all of my family, friends, and friend-crushees (especially if you’re in Norway): Be safe, be smart, and don’t die. And always beware of the trolls.