August 8, 2015

Norway Pt 1: A Ferry of Unfortunate Events

Norway was just... magic.

You guys, the most accurate description of my first seconds in Norway is love at first sight. Time stopped, the stars aligned, and my breath was taken away. I flew into Bergen (or Arendale if you prefer... ;-) )on June 16th and as my plane began to land I took a deep breath and it was like I was breathing for the first time. The last few days in Iceland had been rainy, and gloomy, and humid, but Norway was brilliantly bright, and vibrant, and so friggin green! There were trees everywhere. The area I live in here in California is fairly open and wide, but surrounded all around by hills and mountains. Iceland was waaaaay more open than I've ever been and I didn't really love it. There were beautiful hills and mountains in Iceland but my first three weeks were in never ending fields of grass. So flying into Norway was absolutely a culture shock. There were mountains and hills and trees as far as the eye could see and as thick as molasses. There was something about it that instantly felt like home, like this was the thing I'd always been missing. It was love at first sight.

I stayed in a really weird hostel a few blocks from the harbour and my first order of business was to walk through the vendors selling various seafood and odd little trinkets. There were bars and restaurants who's patrons were basking in the evening sun and it was glorious! And then I met a fellow American lady who was also staying in my hostel, and we decided to pal around that evening, and this was a terrible decision. She spent the whole two hours we were together telling me about her illicit affair with a married man and I couldn't even pretend to be okay with that, which made the weird Chinese dinner, which she insisted on us getting (I mean I wanted to go to the Norwegian Fish Market because Norway...), a pretty awkward one. Consequently she was from Florida, so it really makes sense, but still...

While my heart was instantly won over by Norway, there were a series of now comedic failures that began right away. The first being the unfortunate pal I found, quickly followed by no one  in Norway accepting the pre-paid credit card I brought. Which I had done as a protection thing, but I got a crappy one and well, it made life hellish for my entire trip. Not only did no one accept it, there were also only two banks in the whole country I could use to make cash withdrawals. And because I am a bone head I didn't bother to check for the nearest one of those banks where I could make a withdrawal before getting to the ferry station with all my luggage.

Let me back up a bit here and state three facts up front: 1. I brought way. too. much. crap. with me.  2. I am a terrible solo traveller (for reals, because there are even better/worse stories coming). 3. Norway is friggin expensive. Everyone warned me of this, but I did not take that to heart. So when I left Iceland I exchanged my remaining Icelandic Krona to NOK which totaled about $100.  I'm not amazing at math or money management in American money, so I spent the entire trip being super duper cautious about my spending. So upon arrival in Norway and being shocked to find a tall Starbucks (at one of the two Starbucks in all of Norway) frappuccino was the equivalent of $15!!!!!  (which I forwent for obvious reasons) I went to dinner with my weird pal where I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu at $25. Then, with much concern over my remaining cash I made sure the ferry station took my card (I cannot emphasis enough that you should not bring American Express to Europe!), which they did, so I shrugged it off, pocketed the remainder of my Krone, and went to bed. The next morning I got up early to go buy my ferry ticket and who should also being going to do so, but my weird pal! So we walked together and we bought our tickets. Except they didn't take my card. I mean they claimed they did, but it would not accept my card. So I was short. My weird pal spotted me the money and I asked the ferry ticket man if he knew where any of the two banks I could use were, but he did not. This is where I made the idiotic mistake of not googling it once I got back to my hostel, but I assumed that if the banks were near, he'd have known. Turns out I later found that both banks were a mere ten minute walk away...

I killed time before heading back to my hostel to shower and pack, by walking around Bergen and falling head over heels in love with the small portion I got to explore of that city. I had enough money left to buy myself a coffee from McDonalds ($7!!!), but that was it. So I packed my bags and went to the ferry terminal to deposit my bags in a locker and roam the city for the next five hours. Except lockers cost money. Money I didn't have. And there was no wifi for me to connect to to try and search out an ATM. And America was asleep so I couldn't call and have my mom google it (though let me assure you, this did happen eventually). So there I sat with all my crap, stuck in the ferry terminal. Fun Fact: Bathrooms cost money in Norway. And I had only had a cup of coffee. I pondered my options, but they were to either to grab my belongings and hope I was walking in the right direction of an ATM I could use, or sit and wait. I waited for most the time, but eventually tried my other option to no avail. And I needed to pee something fierce. And the Game of Thrones books don't distract you from nature's call.  Finally it was ferry boarding time and I made sure I was one of the first people on board. And guess what? The snack bar didn't take my card!

The Ferry ride from Bergen to Sogndal was five hours long. I'd already been waiting for five hours. I was hungry and tired and pretty sure my kidneys would never forgive me, but let me tell you, the moment I got on that boat, I totally forgot my growling stomach (and also I found leftover airport snacks at the bottom of my backpack -_-) . I love boats in general (the best sleeps I've ever had were on boats), but holy cow guys, this trip was... well, magic. It was foggy and grey the further out to sea we got. The wind blew my hair and skirt, and I was misted by salt water and all it's healing qualities. The thing about Norway is this: no matter how bad things got, Norway did it's best to make everything better.

This will sound super duper weird and mystical, but it's the best I've got. My dad's side of the family is Norwegian and we've always been very proud of that heritage. My mom's side of the family is a mix of European and Slavic peasantry, and I love it, but all of us have always had a stronger tie to our Norwegian ancestry. I never in a million years thought I would actually get to go to Norway, and had no idea what to expect. So when I got there I was kind of shocked by the atmosphere. I have never felt more welcomed or at home in a place in all my life. It literally was almost like a duh factor. Of course I belong here, these are my people. They were nice and friendly, but understood personal space. They laughed, and sang, and made art from wool. They liked their traditional folk costume, and didn't mind being suffocated by trees. They really, really. love. Christmas. The ocean was important, but so was the land. A storm blew in that day and suddenly the blinding sunshine was traded for a beautiful gloomy horizon. I got romantical and stood on the ferry deck imagining my ancient ancestors looking out over the same ocean, going off to conquer new lands, and taking in their own land. The high rising mountains of the fjords, the water springing from every rock it could, the lush rolling hills, and steep craggy rocks covered in trees. I closed my eyes and breathed in every smell trying to imprint them forever in my memory. I wanted my family to be there with me, getting to understand this odd sensation of belonging.

I passed waterfalls and never ending forests, fields of hay and fields of flowers, making my way to my home for the next month and falling more and more in love the further we went. Maybe this was all because I was delusionally hungry. Maybe I needed more sleep. But in the first 24 hours of being in Norway I could already feel new blossoms growing in the rich soil Iceland had left behind. For the first time in years I knew who I was and I loved that person. I'm getting misty thinking about those first few hours. It was like Norway was my wise and ancient grandmother, offering the warmest, most loving hug, while bestowing knowledge about my past so I could run fervently into my future.

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