For the holidays, my mom and her boyfriend, Doug, took a trip to the North Pole…or almost. They stopped in Tromsø to see me instead. What a gift to have family visit!
The first day in Tromsø we went on a whale safari in inflatable rubber boats. The whales were incredibly active that day feeding on big schools of herring. The not-so-gentle giants were often so close that we could smell their breath when they surfaced: a putrid fish smell. Mmmmm.
The humpbacks are majestic creatures to admire from afar, but real stinky when you lean in too close. One humpback even swam underneath our rubber inflatable; Thankfully it didn’t decide to surface at the moment it was under us!
We learned on the safari that humpacks use a sophisticated hunting technique called the “bubble net.” A group of whales will swim in a circle to release bubbles and create a wall that appears impenetrable from the perspective of the herring. Unable to escape the bubble net, the herring are herded towards the surface of the ocean until they are jumping frantically out of the water. This is the sign for the whales strike. The entire group rises to the surface in tandem, mouths gaping to gulp down as many herring as possible. We were lucky to see as many as twenty humpback whales using this method, their heads rocketing out of the water in unison with jaws open to feed. The steps are perfectly synchronized: First, a roiling, panicked wave of silver herring followed by the elegant and deadly arc of the whales. A terrifying and beautiful dance.
After a few days in Tromsø, we traveled southwards to the rolling hills of Trøndelag, Norway. We visited the old family farm, “Slupphaugen”, where my grandmother grew up during WWII with 10 brothers and sisters. Now my second cousin, Oddgeir, and his wife Vibeke are running the farm. There are still 50 sheep living at Slupphaugen, but since farming isn’t so lucrative these days, both Vibeke and Oddgeir have to commute to the city to work as well. They have a lovely home and it was wonderful to spend time with relatives!
The holidays are steeped in tradition here in Norway, and celebrating Christmas at my cousin’s house outside of Trondheim was no exception. We ate the jellied delicacy “Lutefisk” on the 24th and “Juleribbe,” (Christmas ribs) on the 25th. Of course we also had the traditional rice porridge with a single almond hidden it. Whoever found the almond in their bowl of porridge won a sweet marzipan pig as a prize. I was so surprised when I bit down on the almond that I swallowed it whole and had no proof that I had found it. An uproar ensued among my younger cousins who were convinced I was lying. It wasn’t until the porridge pot was scraped clean that they believed I hadn’t faked finding the almond.
NRK, the Norwegian TV channel features an interesting lineup of films for Norwegians to enjoy over the holidays. On the 23rd, NRK always shows a short slapstick humor film called “The Countess and the Butler” (Grevinnen og hovmesteren). I’ve embedded an online version of the short film here so you also can share in the NRK Christmas tradition.
Tre Nøtter till Askepott (a Czech version of Cinderella filmed in the 1970’s) is also viewed by nearly every family in Norway on Christmas Eve, despite the fact that the film is in Czech and dubbed over by a single Norwegian actor who voices all characters, both female and male. An equally strange TV tradition is the Russian musical called Rock ‘n Roll Wolf. Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking and Emil are other Christmas classics here, although Home Alone 1 & 2 also get their fair share of viewing time.
All too soon, my Mom and Doug had to board a flight back to the U.S. Instead of heading back northwards immediately, I jumped on a southbound train from Trondheim to Oslo. It was a beautiful journey past wild Norwegian forests and rocky bluffs. The train rolled through quaint towns including Røros, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. In Oslo I met up with Ingrid, Nels, and other Oles to welcome in 2016. We lit off New Years fireworks, and met friends both new and old.
For a few days after New Years I had wonderful stay in Moelv with Ingrid, a friend from St. Olaf, and her family. They were incredibly generous hosts! I got to help feed the cows, pet the horse, go hiking with the 3 dogs, and meet many of Ingrid’s old friends.
Ingrid and I also visited Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. We climbed 936 steps of the Olympic ski jump…then went home and ate cod 🙂 About as Norwegian as it gets. I’ve finally made it.
So thankful to the Garfelt-Paulsen family for being my second family here. Now I am finally settling in back home in Tromsø.
Happy New Years everone!