Tuesday, July 31, 2007



Bus - Bus - Bus on Ferry - Bus - Ferry. If there were an award for the best coordinated sea and land crossing involving busses and ferries, we would nominate the Fjord1 company on the route from Bergen to Alesund. The Bergen ticket clerk, two ferry boat stewards, and two bus drivers, were all so considerate and well-organized. I know that these people have to deal with much harsher weather (it is summer after all), but rain-slicked mountain roads and somewhat stormy seas do cause delays. But modern communications, excellent equipment, and personnel with great attitudes, all contributed to a day which we enjoyed immensely.

And it made me happy to see a transportation system which was used by both tourists making connections, but local folks just getting around. I enjoy using public transporation while traveling. But the costs and the route designs in most systems result in two very different worlds of users. There isn't any room out here economically for separate systems; both would fail. So Fjord1 has come up with fairly low cost, well-designed and comfortable busses and ferries that are on-time and very enjoyable. Hooray for them!

Arriving in Alesund around 5pm, we spent the next couple of hours checking into the hotel, asking questions at the city information office, and enjoying a good dinner at a local restaurant (mine was barbecued spare ribs, Pat's was billed as moussaka - but turned out to be different but excellent).

We've plenty of materials about what Alesund and the surrounding area has to offer, and the room at the Radisson looks out onto a beautiful sky (the clouds are parting) and sunset. Tomorrow is probably a trip to the bird island, but it could be more city walking. We'll be here until Friday, then the bus to Oslo.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Alesund

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bergen Aquarium and Old Town


Like two kids continuingly chasing bubbles, we got tickets on a ferry to Alesund this morning. It leaves at 8am tomorrow morning, so we’ll get up early, eat breakfast when it opens at 7am, and get our butts and bags over to the other side of the docks to get on the ferry. Four hours later, we switch to a bus, travel for four hours, and then get on another ferry for a short ride to Alesund. There is an island off the coast of Alesund that is the home of over 2 million birds, including 100,000 puffins. It's one of the places we'l visit while there, because sometimes you have to try to put our lives into perspective with others around us.

So today, we’re just finishing the items on our list that we didn’t get to yesterday. The aquarium was an interesting collection of Norwegian shore specimens (kelp, mollusks, mussels), and lots of water-filled windows into local ocean and lake fish. I actually liked the tropical section best, but only for the closeup views of snakes, lizards, and spiders. Ironically, some of them were being packaged up for shipping to the Alesund aquarium. A penguin clown performed for the crowd. Worldwide, you can’t lose by blowing bubbles.

We walked back toward the city center along the high hills above the docks. The houses on the hill, and the view from them of the city, was terrific. Just when you’ve got most cities figured out, it’s time to move on. We took the bus to Gamle (Old) Bergen, and now I understand why it wasn’t featured on any of the city brochures. It’s really just a small collection of old homes out near the entrance to the harbor, and most of them were closed for viewing. We spent more time on the bus ride out and back then we did there. We headed home to the hotel, and an afternoon of reading and resting. We've picked up several books while here. Though Pat has been much better at reading while traveling, we both could use some quiet time.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Bergen Aquarium

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bergen Bus Tour,and Museums


Last night, we poured over the guidebooks to determine what we wanted to see in the time we had left in Bergen. We paired it down to six places or adventures: a city bus tour to get better oriented; a combination of three museums close to each other; a stave church outside of town; the home of Edward Grieg, the composer; the city's old town district; and the aquarium. We made sure everything was open on both Sunday and Monday, and chose to believe the majority of the books where there was dispute. We also knew that today we needed to decide where to go next, and make some serious moves to get there, with a hotel at wherever it was on Tuesday night.

After breakfast, we walked down to the city information center, and grilled the staff. Our choices for the day's activities became easier when we found out that three of them could be combined into one. There is a city bus which goes to the local stave church and the home of Edward Grieg. It was leaving in 15 minutes, so we jumped on it. If we still had energy and time, we'd walk to the museums and do as much of them as we could before they close or we tired out.

After some consideration to going south to Stavanger, we chose to head north to Alesund. It's a town a days ferry ride north of here, on routes which stop at lots of small fishing towns. Three companies make the trip, and one of them couldn't make the reservations fast enough. The remaining two weren't open on Sunday, so we did our best to learn how reasonable it will be to show up tomorrow morning (Monday) and try to book the trip for the next day.

Then we dashed off for the bus. Securing seats on the top of a double-decker (left side), we spent the next three hours learning (in english and german) lots of interesting knowledge about Bergen and the two sites I mentioned.

I tried to get some pictures of the inside of the church, and was only moderately successful with the camera we're carrying. The shots of the outside turned out better.

I enjoyed the trip to Edward Grieg's home more than I expected I would. I didn't put it high on my list of priorities last night, thinking it was just another uniteresting big house which didn't look lived in. On the contrary, I could perfectly imagine this brilliant but frail little guy spending the last couple decades of his life using this house to reflect his new love of Norway in music. It hangs off the edge of a gorgeous lakeside peninsula, and his composing room (a small desk, piano, and a stove) is exactly as all of us would like to own to be creative.

I did come up with a question about his work which I will pursue with his researchers. The materials in his museum describe his concert schedule over his life. In them, it is written that he performed in Jotunheimen while on tour three times: in 1885, 1889, and 1893. I asked the staff at the museum where he would have performed, as I knew of no concert halls in that area? They smiled and reminded me that he was a romantic, and probably just found a large field. Now that would have been a great summer's sunset bonfire performance on the mountain.

The tour ended back at the city square at 2pm, and we decided we would walk to the museums and get lunch at one of their cafes. To save time and energy, we only visited the exhibitions which featured Norwegian art prior to 1900. It was both strange and reassuring to see illustrations of Norwegian countryside and life which mirrored what we had seen in the Valdres Valley. Unfortunately, there was too little for my appetite, as the artists preferred to choose scenes of coastal life or life in Paris, Italy, or Denmark. I did find two artists there of interest to me. One is Torsten Torsteinsen (the similar name of one of my distant relatives), and the other is Frantz Diderik Boe (who shares the last name of some of my ancestors).

I do have to include a photo I took in one of the museums. Photos of the art is forbidden, and there are guards all over to prevent it. But there was a point were two directional signs pointing toward each other best illustrated the confusion we all sometimes feel. I couldn't help but snap the shot when no one was around.

Tonight, after dinner, we got on the Internet and booked a hotel for Tuesday night in Alesund. We believe that we will be able to find a way to get to there on Tuesday by ferry, bus, or plane. We'll find out tomorrow, and we'll make other arrangements if we can't. That's sometimes the fun of planning while you're traveling... not really knowing. But, we'll need a little luck on this one. Stay tuned to find out.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Bergen Bus Tour and Museums

Saturday, July 28, 2007



It helps to have a strategic plan. Just like organizations trying to figure out what to do with themselves, travelers need to maintain a daily and weekly strategic plan. What are the objectives of the day? What do you want to have achieved in the next three days? Of course, changing the plan to adapt to the changing conditions is essential also. But you have to have something against which you measure your performance.

Back home in Sonoma County, my friends in Coastwalk will be spending the day trying to decide the directions of the organization. Pat and I will be deciding our own directions concerning museums, parks, shopping, and people watching. Given the fact that it rained off and on most of the day, and because Pat left our umbrella in a hotel bathroom, we had one objective: find and buy two collapsible umbrellas for the remainder of the trip. I had not had one, preferring to dodge the drops. Referred to an over-priced shop on the waterfront, we purchased a pair which opened awkwardly (pop it open it completely, then straighten out each metal strut). Oh well, we had seen a century-old Norwegian heraldry tapestry in one of the museums which had two umbrellas embroidered across the top. It was a sign from the past.

Another objective was to get lunch. The hotel breakfast was not nearly as good as the guidebook raved, so we didn’t make a sandwich to take with us. It was just as well. It probably would have gotten soggy. Bergen has plenty of restaurants, but today wasn’t a day we wanted a sit-down meal. The plan was to walk as much as we could around the area of our hotel, and see what we could see. And not get too wet. So we had the equivalent of a polish hotdog and a coke, sitting on stools against a small shop window. It was pleasant, and it hit the spot. So did a bird when it hit the window in front of us. He soon got his bearings, and went his way. So did we.

We stopped at a bookstore, and bought a new paperback novel. Phillip Roth wrote a book entitled, “The Plot against America” , which tells the story of Charles Lindberg’s 1940 defeat of Franklin Roosevelt, and the aftermath of his cooperation pact with Hitler. Pat was only moderately interested in it, but she agreed to let me buy it even though I have two books with us that I haven’t read yet. One is about Theodore Roosevelt’s Amazon travels after his defeat by Wilson in 1912, the other focusing on many little known facts about the indigenous cultures in the Americas before 1492. The topics are right on target for me, it’s just that I have trouble finding the time to read. Pat will probably read them before I do.

The longer term plan is to use the three days we have here to learn as much about Bergen as we can, and see the city and its history from its streets and museums. It’s not hard if you have a good umbrella, and you pace yourselves.

If there is one place in the city that you have to put on your list of seeing even if it rains, it’s Hakon’s Hall. It’s the former royal residence of an early line of kings in the 13th century. Reconstructed twice in the past 150 years, the story of its use for the past 800 years is a fascinating chronicle of Norway’s political and governmental journey. Left in disuse during the 400 years between 1310 and 1814 that Denmark controlled Norway, it rose from a series of storage functions to be transformed architecturally at the turn of the 19th century. The interior facades and decorations gave impetus to a dramatic and romantic view of Norwegian history and life in the middle ages. Blown up in 1944 when a Dutch ship carrying explosives accidentally blew up and destroyed much of downtown Bergen, the Hall was reconstructed in the 1950’s to resemble paintings made of it in the 1500’s, and absent some of the excess of the previous remodeling. The grounds of the fortress which surrounds it, and the views of the city and harbor it overlooks, are also worth the visit.

Tomorrow, we’ll visit some of the five other museums in the city, take a bus to the aquarium, and continue to absorb Bergen. The forecast is for rain until we leave, and we’ve got our umbrellas.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Bergen

Friday, July 27, 2007

On to Bergen


This morning, we decided to take a walk down to the lake behind the hotel after breakfast. Our train down to Flam wouldn’t leave until 11am, and we had about 90 minutes until then. Great adventures are usually filled with great choices, and this was one of them. A more challenging hike in that period of time would be hard to find. The trail was just barely marked, as it consisted primarily of the pathways used regularly by no more than a dozen people using their cabins part of the year. Feeling a bit like we were intruding into someone’s private wilderness, we carefully stepped through very wet bogs, rocks, and wooden planks from cabin to cabin on a route that eventually led us to the dam at the top of the waterfall. Gingerly walking out on a wooden bridge across the face of the dam, we paused for a few minutes while the roaring water passed beneath us in the midst. Truly magical moments are few, and this was one of them. We turned, and began the long walk back to the hotel. Retracing our steps as well as we could, I was very glad Pat has a better sense of direction than I do. We were back at the hotel to check out with minutes to spare before the train rolled up.

We stored our bags at the Freitheim Hotel luggage storage, and walked out to the port to see the shops and wait for our 3:30pm ferry. An uneventful three hours passed checking out the area. The highlights were a mooseburger and lasagna lunch, buying some fruit, chocolate, and cookies for the ferry trip, and watching a large group of tourists negotiate the line to the bathroom in the tourist center.

I have a recommendation for anyone taking the express ferry (catamaran) from Flam to Bergen. The best seats are the ones we chose. Go to the bottom deck, third row from the front, on the left side. The panorama of windows is the best on the boat. There’s 40 feet of almost solid windows, five feet high in front, and four on the side. Except for a couple of small lifeboats on the deck outside, the view is clear to the sides of the fjords. There are two rows of three seats, so you can hog the section by placing your stuff between yourselves. Our seats were next to the left window, which hardly ever got wet (it rained most of the way to Bergen).

I have to admit – the Milford Sound in New Zealand has a better fjord boating experience than any I have seen on this trip. The caveat is that there was one stretch of the trip, which we our boat did not take, the travels up the narrowest fjord in Norway. It may be on par with Milford. The waterfalls were okay, but not as good as some we saw on the train ride to and from the hotel. The rock walls were too far apart, and the boat came nowhere near them. For the maximum oohs and aahs out of a fjord experience, I’d say go to New Zealand.

However, Norway has more than fjords to offer. Especially to people like me who come to find our history. The mountains which rim the fjords provide plateaus and hillsides lowlands where Norwegians raised families. And that is worth far more than walls of water or rock.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: On to Bergen

Flam and Myrdal


Other than a missing bus at an Oslo ferry connection, we haven’t had any glitches so far in our journey. That would change today.

After breakfast, we turned in the rental car and received a ride back to the Fagernes bus station by the rental car receptionist. She is starting her own vacation tomorrow, and hadn’t made any plans. “Just going home to my mom”, she said, who lives ten miles down the road.

The East-West Bus took us up the Valdres Valley past Vang. For the first time, I saw the front side of the mountain which hovers over the homes of my ancestors (Gridane). It looks very much like mother earth, cupping the village in her lap. I also saw the rune stone in front of the church were many of my ancestors were laid to rest. It is said to have been placed there around 1000 AD, and marks the death of a young man of the area. The church was built near it in 1847. Actually, there was an earlier Vang church, which was sold to the King of Prussia, and shipped by boat to there in 1842.

Arriving in Flam four hours later, we went to the Freitheim Hotel. The delay between receiving the reply to our inquiry about the availability of a room there last night, and our email agreeing to accept the room (about an hour), led to it no longer being available. Unfortunately, we didn’t check our email this morning for the confirmation, and found the hotel clerk having to deliver the bad news to us. To his credit, he called the tourist bureau for us, found a room in a hotel at the top of the famous Myrdal-Flam railroad grade, called the local owner, and handed the phone to us to speak to her. She said she had a room, directed us to take the next train up the mountain, and said that she would meet us at the station.

Since we had already planned to take the hour’s train ride up to Myrdal and back tonight, the only new wrinkle was dragging our heavy luggage onto the train. It’s a train carrying daytrippers, and most people don’t carry any. After buying train tickets, and ferry tickets for the trip to Bergen tomorrow afternoon, we found a place to put them in the front of a car, and settled into two seats near the window.

What had been communicated to us was that the hotel was one stop before Myrdal on the grade, separated from it by a long dirt road and a tunnel. After getting off at the Myrdal station, and finding no one waiting for us, we persuaded the son of the cafĂ© chef to use his phone to call the hotel for answers. Oops, sorry. But you can take the next train going back down the mountain, and get off at the hotel. We passed the hour wait by talking to the only other people at the station, a young swiss couple who were trying to get back to their hotel in the opposite direction, after spending the day down in Flam. No one had told them the train they took didn’t go that far.

When we finally got off the train at Vatnahalsen, I was glad we had brought luggage made for mountain dirt roads. It was still some distance to hotel, up a rocky road made for hikers. Eagle Creek Luggage will be my volunteering for a testimonial commercial when we get back.

We checked into a very nice room with an amazing view of the lake above the largest falls seen on the train ride. Dinner was just being served, and we had mushroom soup, pork, potatoes, salad, and a custard and ice cream desert. As we watched the sun set over the mountain in front of the hotel, we settled into some books found in the study. Mine was written by a guy who had stayed at the hotel, and who was advising about Norwegian highlights. Pat ended up taking hers (The Pilot’s Wife) with her, and trading one she had just finished (Cellophane). While I would have liked to avoid the confusion and doubt about whether we’d ever get here, it turned out to be a very nice place to stay.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Flam and Myrdal

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Valdres Summer Mountain Farms


On an island in front of the hotel, I found some trees growing on a peninsula so narrow that the roots stretched out to the lake. Pat commented that I would title the picture something like my search for my roots. I said "roots enroute to roots", and she cringed.

Ola proposed this morning that he drive us to see the farms located high in the Valdres mountain areas used by the local farmers. He said that we should be able to see and feel the way of life up there, and not be worried about driving. He said it would be a shame if we didn't spend some time in the mountain farms.
Ola's credentials as a mountain farm guide could not be matched. One of the generation of young Norwegian farmers encouraged to pursue an education, he trained at an agricultural college near Oslo in his youth. Returning to Valdres, he worked for the farmers organization which improved farming practices and supported their businesses. He also ran his own family farm for many years.

As he drove us up and down public and private roads criss-crossing the many mountains surrounding Valdres, Ola had trouble identifying the names of only a few of the hundreds of farms we came across. His carefully chosen route, enlightening and fascinating narrative, and completely responsive answers to our questions, was another unique experience of a lifetime. It is clear that this man loves his region, loves helping those who want to learn about it get the best adventure from it, and has a lot of fun being in it.

Coupled with helping us understand the farming communities, and the annual pilgrimages from the lower farms to summer fields in the high plateau, Ola helped us get to know the mountains. Not in general, very specifically each major mountain. From many views and elevations, each one was revealed in spectacular beauty. To help me grasp the dimensions of the Vang territory within the Valdres region, Ola designed the route to provide us with an unbelievable panorama of views of (and from) the mountains surrounding Vang. He helped me understand where those who can call themselves from Vang lived throughout their year, and where they walked to be with the mountains they loved.

Looking at land that might otherwise be perceived as arid, rocky, and infertile, he wanted us to know how important all of the land was to our ancestors. They used each elevation, and its seasonal capabilities, to maximize the family's farm survival. Standing on a hill, he said that he thought neither he nor I would be standing here today if it weren't for these mountains. I understood it deeply in my soul.

Ending the day at a church in which his own family lay buried on the grounds, he provided us private entry to let us look through a bible on the alter printed in 1642. Brought to the area by a common ancestor of ours, and signed by one of my ancestors who was a priest in the late 1700s, it added the perfect finish to our first ancestral adventure together. Over dinner tonight, we made plans to continue those adventures in both Norway and the U.S.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Valdres Summer Mountain Farms

Tuesday, July 24, 2007



All this success finding the farms of the parents and grandparents of my Norwegian great-grandmother (Anne Marie Johnsdatter Soine) ignores the failure of mine to find anything about the parents and grandparents of my Norwegian great-grandfather (Julius Mikkelsen Leen). All I really know about him is that he told his family that his parents were from Gudbrandsdal, Norway.

Pat and I like to drive on back roads back home. Her family used to take long rides together on Sundays, and we've continued the tradition. Now that we're retired, we can go on any day, and today it was a long drive up into the mountains that provide the fjords, rivers, and valleys of central Norway (like Valdres and Gudbrandsdalen). A 400 kilometer drive to visit the general area from which I might have another batch of ancestors.

The Gudbrandsdalen valley is best known for the town of Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics, at the south end of the valley. I chose to enter the valley near its northern end, after driving over some high and desolate mountain roads from the west in the summer. I can't imagine how cold and inhospitable they would be in winter. The pursuit of my great-grandfather's family will need much more research before I can have anywhere near the success I have had on this trip.

But so you can share the experience, here is a link to few photos we took:


Monday, July 23, 2007

Norway, Fagernes, and Vang


I can tell you that dreams do come true. But more about that later. We arrived at the Oslo Ferry Terminal, and couldn't find the bus to Fagernes. Later we learned that it wasn't coming, and wouldn't have done so unless there were more of us waiting, and we had booked it ahead of time. We took a city bus to the Oslo central bus station, and booked the bus to Fagernes. At mid-day, we boarded and enjoyed a very scenic ride up the middle of Norway to the town at the south end of the fjord which begins the Valdres Valley. We were met by Per Bondli, who our friend Ola (more about him soon) had arranged to have meet us with a rental car to visit farmhouses in the valley.

We checked into the Fagernes Quality Resort, had dinner at a terrific restaurant just up the street, and walked around the town for a hour or so, before returning to our room. From the hotel (wireless internet capable), we had left an email inquiry for Ola Helge Froene, Valdres Folk Museum's resident genealogist and the man to see according to the cousins who had visited Norway. Ola called soon after our return, and we made an arrangement to meet him the next morning at the Valdres Folk Museum.

I first heard from Ola just four weeks ago in response to a request I placed on the Valdres Web-List, an online connecting point for those interested in researching their ancestors from Valdres. Such lists are popular web chat areas for genealogy fans. I sent Ola links to the blog that I had set up to report on what I knew about my Norwegian family connections (Gfearon Family History), and to this blog. Ola reviewed my information, and agreed to help me with my visit.

Today is when the dream came true. Ola met us at the Museum, and rode with us to his aunt's house in Vang. His two cousins, Gerd Marie and Helga, are very knowledgeable about the Vang farms, and listened to him describe what we were up to. Gerd Marie got out her local history books, and the two sisters, their mother, and Ola compared notes on how to help us find the farms of my relatives. I had brought copies of my famiy tree, and maps with farm locations and names. They used my and their information to get their bearings, and then said they'd be happy to accompany us around the town to gain access to the farms.

First, let me say that the weather was not cooperating as much as it could have. We were glad we brought our raincoats. Having three guides in the back seat of the car, consulting their books, discussing options (in Norwegian), and individually and collectively giving me directions, was more than I had ever hoped for. They found me every single farm on my list, and got me onto the properties of most of them. We talked to cousins, met neighbors and probable cousins, and I took lots of photos of both the area and the farmhouses. They took my half-organized dream of what to do in a week, and turned it into a whirlwind successful day I will never forget. They are all also wonderful people whom I hope will share many more memories with us.

After many hours of driving and walking, we said good-bye to Gerd Marie and Helga, and went to checkout a story we'd heard that some Americans staying at a local farm were also looking into the same families I was. It turned out they left yesterday, but we decided to have a bite to eat at the farm. Another great meal, this time more traditional with a wheat and sour cream thick soup, sliced meats, and bread.

Afterward, we drove Ola home and spent an hour talking and making plans for tomorrow. He showed us photos on his computer, taken last weekend, when he and a cousin walked a 15-hour journey re-creating one made by their grandfather while in his 70's across a high plateau and mountain pass. I showed Ola the photos on YouTube which I took on two Coastwalks in California.

I think Pat and I were given a very unique gift by these friends. I could not have imagined a more perfect introduction to this area, and the homesites of my ancestors and current cousins. It's 2am in the morning, and I'm still excited about it.

But it is time to say goodnight to this perfect dream come true.

Here is a link to all of the photos we took today: Norway, Valdres,and Vang