Chris and I went to Norway for Christmas. Though the Icelandic Christmas stories and traditions are incredibly amusing and interesting, I don't have time to tell you about that now. That will have to wait until next Christmas, perhaps. This post will focus on our trip to Norway, our celebrations and adventures with our dear friend Janne and her wonderful family, and our getting to see my relatives whom I hadn't seen in ages. When we arrived, Janne met us at the airport and was excitedly waving a Slovakian flag because this is the type of randomness Janne enjoys and knew we would appreciate. We took a fancy speedy train from the airport into the city center. From there we walked through a pedestrian street Karl Johann to drop our bags off at the hotel we would be staying at that night. The street was decorated, as in Reykjavik, with lights and garland, and the familiar stores I associate with Norway are even visible in this photo below. H&M stores are on every block, featuring different collections at different locations. And 7-Elevens are not at all uncommon, though they much fancier in Norway, of course.
Janne took us to see a smaller version of the famous little mermaid statue in Denmark. We posed by it for some silly photos, and then saw this statue on our way out of the building. It is Kate Moss in a difficult yoga pose, and it is supposed to make the viewer uncomfortable, I guess. Mission accomplished? We struck poses of our own, though without the same level of flexibility.
Then Janne took us to the new Norwegian National Opera & Ballet House designed by the Norwegian firm Snøhetta. It is an amazing work of architecture and landscape, situated on the bay like an iceberg. It's large windows at street level give passers by an inside look at what goes into each production, from the sets and scenery to the wigs and costumes, inviting everyone to participate in the arts and enjoy the spectacle. As we climbed the ascent of the outer limits of the building, at times it appeared otherworldly, like we were on the set of some alien adventure film. The texture on the building corresponds, we were told, to a Norwegian knitting pattern. I thought at first it was braille. We had some fun with shadow play, admired the skyline from up top, and on our way out we peeked into the windows to see some sets and costumes. It is a beautiful place, and I'm glad Janne shared it with us.
Reflections in a window offered a rare chance to get a photo of all three of us together. Then Chris and Janne tried to capture the walk of the pedestrian symbol painted along the walkway while we walked over to more windows. Pretty good, right?
After a lovely night's rest, we met up with Janne at her apartment. I had never been there before, but it was exactly how I had imagined it. Of course, Janne is also the kind of creative person who would organize her books by color. I love that!
Then we stopped by a fancy mc fancy grocery store to pick up some snacks for the four hour bus trip to Arendal. The whole trip Janne and I sit beside each other and finish up the Christmas gifts we are nearly done with. I was needle-felting kitties for Janne's neices, Sofia and Cora, since the Christmas cat is a tradition in Iceland. Janne was working on sewing the final touches on a couple of intricately designed and beautifully embroidered tie pockets for Sofia and Cora. I'm only sorry I didn't get a picture of them, for they were stunning!
We arrived in Arendal and were greeted by Janne's brother-in-law. He drove us to their house where we were greeted by Janne's sister, Hilde, and their two adorable daughters, Sofia and Cora. We celebrated Lille Julaften (Christmas Eve Eve) by enjoying the delicious traditional rice porridge with a blanched almond in it. Whoever gets the almond in their porridge keeps it a secret until the end of the meal. Then they get a marsipan prize. We were introduced to two feuding Christmas sodas at this meal, and we tried a little of each, but decided to not weigh in on it so as not to disappoint or offend either of our hosts. :)
Before we left for the evening, Hilde offered us her old car to drive, but because it was a stick shift and Janne doesn't have a driver's license, Chris became the designated driver for the trip. We thanked her, and Chris nervously drove us to Tromøya and the beautiful cabin on the ocean where we stayed while in Arendal. No photo of that either, but believe me...beautiful!
On Christmas Eve we slept in and awoke to Janne making us hot chocolate in the kitchen. The television was on, and the traditional Norwegian Christmas program was underway. We enjoyed our breakfast and hot chocolate as we watched the most hilariously dubbed version of Cinderella ever. I had seen this film parodied in a school program in 1999, but I didn't get how funny and accurate that skit was until this Christmas Eve when I saw the original for myself. Perhaps this is the slowest uptake of a joke...ever? Well worth it, though. Even Chris was thoroughly amused, and he didn't understand the language.
That afternoon we drove to a beach and took a short hike to see some sights on Tromøya. I wished us a Merry Christmas in the sand, in Norwegian, of course. The trees near the beach were tangled and twisted by the relentless winds, and the stones were worn from the lapping waves. It was overcast, but mild and lovely!
That evening Janne left for a family celebration, so Chris and I made ourselves a delicious Christmas Eve meal and enjoyed it by candlelight and the warmth of the fireplace.
The following day, Christmas Day, Chris and I went on a walk from the cabin. We walked up the road a bit and followed a hiking trail that led us into some woods and along a pond. It was charming, and the green moss covered rocks and tree trunks glowed and made me think of Andy Goldsworthy.
The following day, Chris drove us to meet my family in Melsomvik. I got to see my cousin, Tor, my aunt Helga, my uncle Sven, and meet Tor's kids, Hilde and Stian. It was wonderful to see them. In this gathering, the person I had seen most recently was my cousin Tor, and that was over 13 years ago. It was great to sit down to a meal with them and enjoy their company. Chris took this lovely picture of us before we left. I was quite emotional after this lovely reunion, so I cried many happy tears on the way home. I am so glad to be nearer to them now, so hopefully I will see them a lot more often!
The following day we were invited to Hilde and Geir's house to bake pepperkaker (gingerbread cookies) with Sofia and Cora, but mostly Sofia because Cora kept eating the dough. Here are some photos from the baking fest. The kitties in the tree are the ones I made for the girls. The cat on the floor is Billy Bob Thriller, the cat Chris and I were eager to become acquainted. And while the baking was going on, I made each of the girls a little illustration to remember me by. Elephants were requested.
The day we left Arendal, we got a quick tour of the city center before we boarded the bus to Oslo. I cried while saying my goodbyes. These are the sweetest most generous people. I cannot thank them enough for letting us join them this Christmas. It was so lovely!!!!
Janne made us pose here, and Chris was a bit reluctant. Janne got her way.
Our final evening we got together with my other cousin, Per, and we met for the first time his wife Karin and their little daughter, Helene. It was so nice. And then Per was kind enough to offer us a ride to our hotel near the airport. It was a very long drive, so we were very, very thankful that he was willing to do that for us. It also gave us a little more time to chat with him, which I was very glad for.
It was a lovely trip, but as we looked out the airplane window and admired our aerial view of Iceland, we marveled at the beauty of the island we call home. It was great to go to Norway, but it is also nice to come back home.