Europe Top Ten, Part Three

Aug 15, 2016

Soon after Mike and I began dating, I was at his parents' house one evening during family scripture study. Each person took a turn reading a few verses, and when it got to be Mike's dad's turn, something was . . . different. He was reading slowly and stumbling a little and even though the general message of the verse was right, the words and phrases and sentences were not exactly the same. I was baffled, until Mike told me his dad was reading from a Norwegian Book of Mormon and translating it into English as he went along.

That was one of my first clues that for Mike's dad, Norway was a big deal.

He served a church mission to Oslo when he was nineteen years old and has always claimed that Norway is the most beautiful country in the world. In the last twenty years, he has traveled extensively all around the world and seen many beautiful and wondrous places but has still maintained that deep and abiding love for Norway and its people.

When Mike and I were planning our trip to Europe, Norway was not on the original agenda. It was expensive and not as convenient to get to as some of the other countries. But then things shifted. Mike's sister, Anne, and her husband were coming to Europe immediately after us, and it just so happened that Mike's parents had a rare week off of church assignments. Anne approached them about a possible Norway trip, and when they said it just might work, Mike and I did the only sensible thing and invited ourselves along.

Even once we made it to Europe though, the Norway plan was still a little up in the air. We knew there was a possibility that Mike's parents' plans would change at the last minute and they wouldn't be able to go with us. And then, after ten days of traveling to the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany, the truth was, Mike and I were tired and missing our kids something fierce. We kind of just wanted to go home. When we arrived at the Frankfurt airport to catch our flight to Oslo, we found the place a literal zoo. Mike's parents said they had never seen it like that: Swarms of people and twisty long lines and chaos. (Apparently, a bunch of flights had been cancelled the night before, and all those extra people were still trying to leave.) Even though we'd given ourselves a cushion of time, the chances of making our flight looked bleak. Mike turned to me and said, "If we miss this flight, we're just going to go home."

But fate must have been on our side. Our flights happened to be business class (we've never flown business before, but when we bought our tickets, they were the only seats available), and so our line was shorter--not by much, but it was enough. We arrived at our gate with about five minutes to spare and arrived in Oslo without incident.

I'm telling you all of this because sometimes I feel a little sick when I think back to how close we were to abandoning this part of our trip. Norway was an absolute dream--a constantly changing landscape, and all of it drop dead gorgeous. We kept joking, "I hope we finally get to see something pretty on this trip!" We traveled from Oslo up to Geiranger down to Flåm and ended in Bergen, and the entire trip was a feast for the eyes.

I have only two regrets: that I couldn't capture its full beauty in photos and that, even as inadequate as they were, I didn't take more of them. I want to remember this place forever. Here are a few highlights (but it was really hard to narrow it down, and you'll see that I cheated just a little bit):

1. Our eight-passenger van

When we were planning how to get around Norway, we decided driving would be the most ideal because it would offer us the greatest flexibility and freedom. The problem? There were six of us, and all the car rental places didn't have any vehicle big enough for us and our luggage. Mike's dad tried again and again, calling various places and talking to numerous people. In the end, we decided we'd have to just rent two cars, but it was such a disappointing compromise. The fun of a road trip comes from talking and laughing and experiencing new things with other people, and I just knew if we couldn't all be together, we'd be missing out on a lot of great memories. When we went to pick up the car, my father-in-law asked one final time, "You don't happen to have something that would fit six people, do you?" "Actually," said the receptionist, "we just got an eight-passenger van. It's never been out before. Would that work for you?" Oh my goodness, we loved that van so much (except on the narrow, twisting mountain roads), and even though the views would have still been pretty if we'd had two little cars instead, the memories wouldn't have been the same. One of the great things about driving rather than traveling another way is that we could pull off anytime we wanted to for pictures or a longer look. And believe me, we took advantage of that, sometimes stopping as frequently as every five minutes because we just couldn't help ourselves.

2. Going to church

On Sunday morning, we went to church at one of the wards outside of Oslo. When we walked into the building, my father-in-law immediately recognized someone from when he was a missionary there 40 years before. She was so pleased and happy to see him. The meeting was in Norwegian (of course), but we had a couple of people translate for us. Mike's dad also gave a brief testimony in Norwegian. I loved seeing him in his element, sharing the Gospel with people he loves. And the members of the ward were just so incredibly kind and sweet and generous. I love the unity that is felt within the Church across oceans and countries and languages--the language of the Gospel is the same.

3. Red barns, grass roofs, and stave churches

Over and over again, I was amazed by the colors in Norway. The abundance of green in many different shades was the perfect backdrop for the red and brown and white and mustard-colored houses and barns. Driving through the countryside, they popped out, sharp and vibrant, on the hillsides. Many of the houses also still boast the traditional grass roofs that have been used for centuries. And the small churches, each with their own cemetery, anchor every village and town. The architecture was both quaint and striking.

4. Tunnels

I have never been in so many tunnels in my life. Mike and I often have the debate: Tunnels or bridges? I'm firmly on the bridge side, but Mike loves tunnels, so he was in heaven. Notable tunnels we went through were the Spiralen (which spiraled up to the top of the mountain and must have been the inspiration for Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King") and the Lærdalstunnelen (the longest tunnel in Norway--clocking in at 15.23 miles, I may have felt a little panicked when we got to the halfway point, especially when the guys decided we needed to pull over for pictures).

5. Waterfalls

I don't think we were ever out of sight of a waterfall (except when we were inside a tunnel). Some were the merest trickle, leaking out of the mountain while others were huge, rushing cascades. One of our favorites was Pollfoss (pictured above).

6. Fjords

We came to Norway specifically for the fjords, and they did not disappoint. We saw them both from above (the Geiranger fjord at the top of Dalsnibba--my fear of heights definitely kicked into high gear) and from sea level (we took a ferry from Geiranger to Hellesylt), and every angle was breathtaking. We worried that the weather was going to hinder some of the views, but it cooperated for almost the entire trip.

7. Fjord jumping

One evening, we drove past a diving platform, and Mike knew he would never forgive himself if he passed up an opportunity to jump into a fjord. That's not the kind of experience I regret missing, so I opted out, but Anne and Nate joined him. The water wasn't too cold, and after a couple of times jumping in, Mike grew overly confident and decided to run the length of the platform before jumping off. Unfortunately, he slipped at the edge of it and did a back flop instead of a jump, but it was still epic (and so were the red welts that followed). (If you want to see a picture of it, check out my Instagram feed.)

8. The fruit

The chocolate in Norway was good. So were the crab legs. And the jarlsberg cheese wasn't bad either. But the strawberries and raspberries blew me away. I have never never had strawberries and raspberries that tasted like that. I wish I could go back and have that first taste all over again because it was so startling. The strawberries were sweet and literally melted in my mouth--and not in a mushy, overripe way. The skin was firm, but as soon as I bit into it, it turned into juice and ran down my throat. Unbelievable. The raspberries gave us a little heads up for what we were in for just by their sheer size (as big as quarters), but man, each one of the those little pockets was filled to bursting and exploded when I bit into it. Yum, yum, yum.

9. The color of the water

I told you I was obsessed with the colors of Norway. We saw water that was a beautiful opaque turquoise and also the deepest darkest midnight blue. The pictures do an inadequate job of capturing it.

10. The Fløibanen

In this top ten post, the cities we went to have been woefully underrepresented. I could have done a top ten composed of just the fun things we did in Oslo and Bergen. Although I preferred the countryside, both cities were delightful (and very different from each other). When we got to Bergen, we rode the Fløibanen (a funicular) to the top and had an amazing view of the city (and the goats on the hillside kept us all entertained).

But I think the best thing for me about the whole trip was just seeing Mike's dad in his beloved Norway along with his wife and two of his kids. He has waited so long to share this with someone, and he couldn't have had a more appreciative audience.

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