Sunday, August 11, 2013

Vårlivarden and Skomakarnibbå

We've had quite a few things going on this spring (more on that later!) but we managed to fit a few hikes in when the weather permitted.  After our visit home in March, we took advantage of the long Easter weekend by hiking Vårlivarden.

Of course we brought Pistol with us and the usual provisions - Kvik Lunsj bars (aka Kit Kat bars), PBJs, and apples.  Hiking this early in the season meant that we had to cross over some ice and the air was brisk, but it was a beautiful day for a hike!

We had another long weekend in May (Norway has a TON of national holidays in the spring!) so we took some advice from a fellow expat and drove to Hagalid to hike Skomakarnibbå.  A legend of a shoemaker (the hike's namesake) and his death by falling off of the ledge while watching a wedding procession claims that the outcrop will fall into the fjord if seven sisters marry on the same day.  

The hike starts at a farm, and so many sheep greeted us at the beginning - Pistol wasn't sure what to make of them! We made sure not to get too close because a watchful border collie never let us out of his sight.

This hike goes through woodland, bog, and up cliffs along the 7km trail.  

This hike was fun, but tiring!  I was happy to see those sheep again (Pistol... no so much).

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Boy and His Bike

We both had high hopes for cycling while in Norway. We even bought two bikes and had them shipped with our other goods.  In hindsight, they were not good bikes. Terrible, in fact, compared to the professional ones that everyone seems to have here.  Nonetheless, we gave it a good try and cycled from work one day and even cycled to a monument to a sunken ship call The Broken Chain on the coast near Tasta.

Jeffrey usually has more energy than I do and this was no exception.  Good thing he doesn't mind when we take breaks!   

I shared our experience with Leif Christian, laughing at our naivete regarding all things bicycle related and he saw an opportunity.  There is a major cycling even in June of every year in this part of Norway - the North Sea Race - and he offered to help Jeffrey train for it.  He even offered his second bike for Jeffrey to ride (thank goodness - the move was rough on Jeff's bike and cut the brake line to the back tires... it also looked like a 12-year old's bike...).  Jeffrey is never one to pass up on a new experience and agreed before Leif Christian could even deliver the full proposal.  I was also in full support, mainly because there was not a third bike and I could just cheer him on!

What Jeff didn't realize is that this race is 91 kilometers long!  That's 56.5 miles and about 10x longer than any bike ride he'd ever been on before!  Leif Christian began the training sessions in April and graciously lent Jeff gloves, jackets, and water bottles (Jeffrey did buy his one cycling shorts).  I loved hearing the stories when Jeff would return home of how Leif Christian would reach the top of a grueling hill only to turn around and tell Jeff that he still had a ways to go before cycling to the top again.  He prepared Jeff well, though, and last June Jeffrey participated in a the North Sea Race along with thousands of other cyclists!

I used a map of the route to strategically place myself in spots where Jeff could see me cheer - it was so fun!

Most of the track is on surface roads and hundreds of volunteers shut down the streets, pass out food and water, and attend to injuries.  There are a few places with gravel, though, and with over 10,000 participants there is some danger of losing your balance in crowded areas. Jeffrey actually slid on some gravel, scuffing up his knee.  I didn't even notice until he was done - it didn't slow him down at all.

The picture below was taken at the start of the biggest hill ever.  Since I was there, he took this as a good opportunity to hop off and I walked with him to the top.  I was definitely not a part of the race, but with all the spectators, life music, and fellow racers giving high-fives and encouragement, it was easy to see why the participants enjoy this race so much.

And he finished with a great time too! 4 hours and 17 minutes!

It was over a year ago, but I am still so impressed.  He was happy with his accomplishment and said he couldn't have done it without his biggest fan (and Leif Christian, obviously).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Zermatt and the Swiss Alps

I'm definitely a warm-weather-traveller. The cafes, strolling through the streets, and the atmosphere just seems to be better when there's warm sun on my face.  But, I've found an exception: the Swiss Alps!

This trip was a bucket list item for Jeffrey. Not that I wasn't excited, but skiing hasn't been my favorite hobby ever since I was old enough to realize falling hurts.  Needless to say, I underestimated just how much I would enjoy this trip - and now it's considered one of our favorites!

In late February, we flew to Zurich then took a train to Zermatt, an alpine village on the border of Switzerland and Italy.    The views were amazing from the train, when I could stay awake to take them in..   

We stayed in a modest hotel, but it really doesn't matter where you stay in the village.  The streets are car-free, restaurants and apres-ski bars are all within walking distance, and the best views are from the slopes anyway. Our favorite peak?  The Matterhorn, obviously!

Another great thing about Zermatt is that it gets an average of 300 days of sun per year.  Usually this would mean poor snow conditions, but Zermatt experienced record snowfall the weeks leading up to our trip -  it seemed like the clouds parted just for us!  We took full advantage our first day by taking Gornegrat cogwheel train up the mountain.  We were early birds compared to the Europeans, so it felt like we had the whole mountain to ourselves. 

Of course, with this many runs spread across multiple peaks, it never actually felt crowded.  I had researched the runs (called "pistes") and learned that Zermatt is considered a haven for intermediate skiers.  Most of the runs are red (intermediate) with a few nice blues (easy) and blacks mixed in.  The yellow pistes are un-groomed... we avoided these.  My favorite area was between Gornegrate and Rothorn because there was so much variety in the runs. We almost never went down the mountain in the same way twice.  

We also took the series of lifts, gondolas, and cable cars to the very top - the Matterhornglacier Paradise - 3,900 meters above sea level.  We were literally skiing above the clouds!  From here, we skied across the border into Italy, had a delightful lunch of pasta and wine, then skied back into Switzerland.

Speaking of food, we didn't have one bad meal during our entire holiday.  We indulged in quite a range of culinary treats - soups, lamb, curries, ribs, wine, truffles and fondue - just to name a few.  Though expensive, the food really was quality and you can't beat those views.

We were wiped out by mid-afternoon so after a quick stop at apres-ski (our favorite had live music playing American rock-n-roll), we would rest and then explore the village.  I had read some reviews that described Zermatt as the Manhattan of the Alps... I disagree.  Yes, there are new developments, but Zermatt has definitely held on to its charm.  There are even old areas of the village that still have structures that were built over 300 years ago.  In the winter, livestock would stay on the first floor help heat the upper floors - whatever works I guess!

We wanted to do as much sightseeing as we could, so we scheduled our return flight late in the evening and took an early train out of Zermatt so we could stop in Lucerne for the afternoon.  This was my second time to Lucerne, and I had to assure Jeffrey that there were mountains beyond the lake...  We enjoyed our time in this pretty city, but we definitely want to come back (and explore more of Switzerland) in the summer!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Life is Happening

I'm still here!  The hiatus was unintentional, but not surprising when looking back on the last few months...

While on our vacation in Switzerland mid-February, Jeffrey's maternal grandfather passed away.  Though not unexpected, we were hoping that we'd be able to see him during our first trip home coming up in mid-March.  Jeffrey was able to make it to the funeral, leaving the day after we returned from the Alps, and two weeks later we made the trip home.  It was so fun seeing family and being in Oklahoma after almost a year and a half.  And while Grandpa Young was missed, we enjoyed spending some quality time with Grandma Young.

We talked about their farm, how Jeffrey and Grandpa raised pigs one summer, and how much she loved the house he had built.  We enjoyed hearing her reminisce with a smile on her face, remembering details of 15 years ago almost better than those 15 minutes ago.  But my heart still aches when she told us how much she missed him. After nearly 60 years together, their lives were so intertwined that she couldn't accept the fact they weren't together anymore.  Six weeks after his passing, Grandma Young joined him.  Being so far away during times of loss are incredibly hard, but I find comfort in the belief that they have each other again and it reminds me that each moment we have with those we love is special and fleeting.

And what better way to hold on to those fleeting moments than to write them down and share them with others.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - Hiking Made Easy

Our appreciation for the outdoors has reached new levels since living in Norway.  We may still be a little particular about the weather (our Norwegian friends don't let a drenching rain or gale-force winds keep them inside), but when it's sunny you can bet that Jeffrey and I are looking for a new area to explore.

Enter:  a one-stop shop for all of our hiking inspiration.  The site also added the translation functionality so it's even easier to use!  I usually just go over to the map, make sure Turforslag is checked and peruse the options.  The little flags take you to information on that particular hike like its difficulty, how to get there, and what you'll see along the way.  

I just love maps.

On new year's day, this hike caught my eye. So Jeffrey and I packed up the dog, some snacks, and headed for Egersund.  

One thing to remember while hiking in January - the sun sets at 3PM.  So there's really no time to dilly dally.  If only we had remembered that when we started.

Instead, we tried to impress each other with feats of brute strength...

Or kept looking impossibly fluffy and adorable so many stops HAD to be made for pictures...

Or just enjoyed the January sun's faint warmth and unusual brightness on our faces so that a long sit on the rocks was not only mandatory but thoroughly enjoyed.  Sometimes just a little sunshine can make us (me) feel incredibly happy.

But, wait! Sundown? How far away is the car? Luckily, I have this guy to guide me.

Except he led us right into a rushing river.

Ok, so maybe it wasn't a river. But it was still a formidable obstacle.  Good thing I long jumped in high school :)  And after a freak hail shower and impending darkness, we made it full circle with enough time to wash Pistol in a little stream before we took off. I'm sure he appreciated that too.

So, if you're ever in Norway and want to know where to hike, check out!  But good luck finding a guide as cute as mine..

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The First Ski and Snow of the Season

It's still unusual for us to take a weekend ski trip.  Ski trips for Oklahomans mean 10+ hours of driving, usually overnight so that we don't waste too much of the trip on travel, and then we ski hard for 4-5 days before heading home.  These trips have always been fun and memorable, but I could get used to a weekend in the mountains. My favorite part is that I don't feel like I have to exhaust myself skiing because we can just go again the next weekend!

We recently took the Sauda ski boat again and enjoyed a day on the slopes, but our first ski trip of the season was in Roldal.  It's about a 4 hour leisurely drive and one ferry away from Stavanger.  We happened to drive through a heavy snowfall, but that just made it feel more like we were really in the mountains. Actually, Roldal is known for getting some of the best snow in Norway.  We were a little early for the best conditions, but Jeffrey couldn't wait any longer to try out his new skis.

We stayed at the Marathon apartment with Leif Christian and Therese for the weekend.  And while Jeff and Leif Christian enjoyed some skiing...

I got to hang with this little girl!  Therese and I snuggled Sophie, read books, watched Norwegian TV, and were very lazy.  A full day of skiing this time of year was from 10-3 since that's when the light is best anyway, so the boys were back to entertain us before long.

It wasn't too long after our ski trip that Stavanger received its first heavy snow.  Jeffrey wasted no time in gathering supplies for a proper snow man. And of course Pistol has to be a part of it! 

It's hard not to enjoy just about anything when I have these two around!