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Campouts, glaciers and the tallest mountain in the Northland
Chris is the Young Men’s President in our ward/church congregation and back in August (yes I know…still catching up! It’s a never-ending battle) he and the youth went up north Jotunheimen National Park for a dual-stake campout for all the LDS youth in Norway. It was 5 full days packed with 10 hour drives, lots of gear, campfire food,  devotionals, treks across glaciers and summiting Galdhøpiggen: the tallest mountain in Northern Europe.
Tethering together to prepare to cross the Styggebreen glacier.
The summit of Galdhøpiggen
The view from the tip top of Northern Europe!
Devotional/testimony meeting.
Represent!
Building temples out of woodland materials.
The end of an adventure. 

 

 

Utne

A bus from Aurland to Voss, another bus from Voss to Kinsarvik, and a ferry from Kinsarvik to Utne. After a very full day of figuring out our route, hunting down bus stops and ferry terminals, and lots and lots of waiting we finally arrived in town for the night exhausted and wet. Boy was Utne a sight for sore eyes!

 

Especially our lodging for the night, the Utne Hotel! I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a more quaint and charming hotel (and no…I’m not getting paid to write that) and for me it was one of the highlights of our trip! Perhaps it was the fact that it was built in the 1700s and had the antiques and architecture to prove it. Perhaps it was the cozy rooms (each one unique) tucked into every nook and cranny that made you want to creepily look into every open door you passed. Perhaps it was the amazingly glorious hot shower we finally got to take after an exhausting two days. Most likely though, it was the fresh Hardanger cherries that greeted us in little bowls in our rooms and throughout the hotel provided for our munching pleasure. Seriously, so cute!

This view!!

That night we splurged and treated ourselves to a 3 course dinner at the hotel restaurant. The main course was some sort of lamb dish prepared with locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables (including Jerusalem artichokes, which I’d never had before) and it was the perfect way to end our fiasco with the van and send us off into a cozy night’s sleep to settle ourselves back down into a vacation groove.

The next morning we awoke to more fresh cherries and a rain-less day. We met up with our NATO rescuer and his 12 passenger van, loaded up our luggage and then headed to the Hardanger Folk Museum down the street to get a dash of the region’s history and culture before the long drive home. While we walked to the museum we explored a bit of the town, passing calm pebble beaches and apple orchards climbing up into the mountains. And of course all along the way we passed cherry tree after cherry tree dripping with dark red fruit that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. 
Sea goddess statue made of shells and cement.
The Hardanger Folk Museum was definitely worth the trip. A large part of it was an open-air museum recreating old-time farmhouses from the region. It was fun to imagine ourselves living back in the old days in a place like Utne. Tamara also got to see tons of her Hardanger embroidery stitch in all sorts of beautiful patterns in the bunad exhibit. I spent a good bit of time sitting in the cafe trying to stave off a bout of baby-induced nausea by eating lefse. A pregnant lady’s gotta do what a pregnant lady’s gotta do!
At last it was time for us to pile into our rescue van and make the long drive home through Odda and back to Stavanger. We’re so grateful NATO was able to send someone up to get us! Despite the hiccups, it was a pretty fantastic little Norwegian road trip. Chris and I definitely hope to make it back to Utne again in the future!

After arriving back home, we had just a few more days with the Hills in which we introduced them to friends, explored the city, and celebrated their awesome visit with a night out at our very favorite Indian restaurant.

We will always treasure these memories with Mom, Dad, and Emma!

Aurland

It wouldn’t be a good story about a road trip without a few speed bumps, right? (Get it? Speed bumps? Because it’s a road trip?? Wah-wahh. Don’t judge me. I’m writing this late at night.)

This particular speed bump was the gold Dodge Caravan that we rented from the NATO base for this trip. We rented the van because our little Peugeot wagon has a bit too many special needs for its own good, so who would have thought that the newer fancy car would have caused so much grief? I’m getting a little ahead of myself though. Back to the beginning.

Chris’ parents placed Aurland at the top of their list of places to see in Norway after they read about our stop there when my family came to visit. We basically built this whole road trip itinerary around visiting the fjord town. We rented a cozy cabin high up in the mountains surrounding the fjord and had grand plans to snuggle up nice and warm and eat the apple cake we bought at Steinstø Fruktgård while playing games long into the night (sounds pretty cozy for a summery July evening but hey, that’s Norway for you). In the morning, we would explore the town and visit the Aurland Shoe Factory and the glass blowing gallery and spend some time admiring all the darling little houses lining the fjord before continuing on our way.

Apparently Aurland was the artistic inspiration for the location of the kingdom of Arendale from Frozen. I can totally see it.

We arrived in Aurland and make a pit stop at the little grocery store to buy some vanilla ice cream to go with the apple cake and game night. We piled back into the van, turned the ignition and NADA. Zilch. Not even a turnover. The worst kind of silence ever. After trying everything we could think of to get the car started, we are finally able to get ahold of someone from NATO to get advice, which ended up being to call a tow truck and see what they can do. We explored the Shoe Factory and glass gallery while waiting for the tow truck, hopeful for a good prognosis but alas, the van wouldn’t even jump for the tow truck and had to be towed to the local garage for a deeper inspection, leaving us to figure out how to get up the mountain to our cabin. We ended up resorting to hiring the only taxi driver in town to haul all of us and our luggage up the mountain with the promise of a pickup in the morning. And of course, being Norway, it ended up being a ridiculously expensive taxi ride.

Our good friend, the tow truck.

 

We finally made it to our cabin just as dusk was falling, which in the middle of summer in Norway is pretty late at night. We were exhausted and barely mustered up the energy to grill some hot dogs out on the back porch in the rain before tucking in for the night. No games and no apple cake with ice cream. Only sleep. Which was a total bummer because the cabin was awesome!

Our cozy cabin up in the tops of the fjord.
Check out the view in the morning!

 

In the morning, the last of our hopes were dashed. The van was caput. Something to do with a major flaw in the security system that was preventing the car from starting. We were officially stranded in Aurland. We called the NATO base again and they said they would send someone to rescue us, but unfortunately they wouldn’t be able to make it until the next day. We tried to get a second night at our cabin to no avail and every other hotel/inn in the area was already booked for the night. We were in a bit of a pickle. We decided that since our original plan was to go to Utne and we had already paid for our hotel there, we would try to press forward “on foot”. After a quick morning hike to Stegastein Lookout, we were picked up by our taxi driver and taken to the tiny tourist office downtown. With help from the guy at the office, we figured out we could take two buses and a ferry and make it to Utne by that evening. So we consolidated our luggage as best we could to make it easier to carry, hopped the first bus out of town and were off on our unexpected journey to Utne!
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Stegastein Lookout
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From Bergen to Utne

 

Since we’ve done the Bergen tourist loop multiple times now, we decided to do it a little differently with the Hills. We used Bergen as our jumping off point as usual, but this time rather than doing the actual Norway-in-a-Nutshell tour for the third time (you can see the previous 2 times here and here), we decided to turn the route into a little mini road trip in our own vehicle so we could travel at our own pace and to allow us to deviate from our path whenever our whims fancied a detour. And our whims fancied a lot of detours!
We traipsed all over the Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord regions, starting in Bergen and traveling from there to Norheimsund to Øystese to Aurland to Voss to Utne to Odda and back home. We visited apple orchards and had the best home-baked apple cake I’ve ever had in Norway with vanilla ice cream at Steinstø Fruktgård. We saw lots of waterfalls and gorgeous fjords. We perused some local museums. We walked up and down the misty shorelines of the fjords and we ventured to the tops of the mountains. We nibbled on lefse and we stopped at as many roadside cherry stands as we could to pig out on delicious Hardanger cherries. We traveled by car, bus, and ferry along many twists of both the road and fate and truly had a grand adventure.
Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall
(I feel ridiculous writing that because in Norwegian ‘foss’ means ‘waterfall’, but when I’m writing everything else in English it just seems weird not to include it!)  It looks small from far away, but close up…
it was a ton of crashing water! Out of all the waterfalls we saw on our trip this one was particularly cool because you could walk behind it.

It magical to get off the beaten path of the Norway-in-a-Nutshell tour and explore the rest of the region. You do get an awesome perspective on Norway in a short amount of time doing the tour, but it doesn’t beat getting to take things at your own pace and being able to stop and smell the cherry blossoms (and sample the apple cake!).

Next stop, Aurland!

 

Waaaaay up north

When someone asks if you want to be part of the crew on a sailboat to go hunting for icebergs in the Arctic Ocean, you say “yes”. Because really, that’s how all great adventures start.

 

This particular adventure for Chris happened to start when a friend of ours from church was looking for some assistants to accompany him on a 6-day trip up to the Svalbard islands to sail into the Arctic Ocean to collect iceberg core samples for a business venture. Basically, he’s creating a new brand of über-premium bottled water made from North Pole icebergs, called Svalbardi (apparently there is a really good market for that sort of thing. Who knew?) and he needed some able-bodied crew to come along and help him share the costs of the boat and aid in collecting iceberg core samples for purity testing.

 

When Chris heard the words “sailing” and “Arctic Ocean”, he immediately wanted in. Then he thought maybe it wasn’t a good idea. Then he thought maybe it was a great idea. Then he thought it was too expensive. Then he thought it was priceless. The timing of the trip was pretty terrible, what with it starting just after we got back from our trip to the States and overlapping a visit from his family at the end. And yeah… it was money we weren’t really planning to spend. But you know, there are always plenty of reasons NOT to do something and sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and say “yes” when life hands you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For us, we decided that 60 years from now the story of hunting icebergs in the Arctic is going to be worth all the money spent on the trip and more so Chris accepted and off he flew to Svalbard to catch his boat to the Arctic Ocean for 6 days.

 

Mmm…whale, reindeer and seal for dinner. Viking food.

 

Dead seal.

 

Alive seal.

 

Setting sail.

 

The total crew ended up being Chris, Jamal (owner of Svalbardi water) and the sailboat captain. The captain was pretty happy Chris was a certified Day Skipper with the RYA and Chris was pretty happy that he therefore got to do a lot of the sailing. And Jamal was pretty happy that he had someone to help out with the icebergs, because apparently it was a lot more work than expected to hunt down the ‘bergs. Happiness all around :)

 

(Unfortunately, Chris didn’t get any photos with himself in them, so the rest of the photos will include a lot with the captain and Jamal. We’re going to work on this in the future ;) But know that he was actually there as the man behind the lens. )

 

The weather was as good as could be expected (yes, it was July but you sure wouldn’t know it based on their outfits!) They had some gorgeous clear days and some horrible days with 20ft swells and accompanying seasickness. All in a week’s work for a sailor.

 

One of the experiences Chris talked about a lot when he got home was hearing the icebergs calve from the glaciers. All would be eerily silent except for the sound of the waves against the boat and then they would hear a huge thunderous CRACK. If they were close enough, they would whip their heads around towards the sound and catch the sight of glacier ice crashing down into the water. Sometimes they would sit and listen to what sounded like a thunderstorm in the middle of a clear day as iceberg after iceberg broke off and fell into the sea.

 

He also had a bit of a harrowing experience involving a capsizing iceberg. To get the core samples, Chris and Jamal would take a dingy from the main sailboat with all their equipment, sidle up to the iceberg and anchor the dingy tightly onto it with ice hooks and rope. They had just tied themselves off to one particular iceberg when Jamal realized they were missing a part for their core borer. They untied themselves, leaving the ice hooks in the iceberg to await their return with the needed part. Once they got back to the sailboat, however, they realized that the part they needed was actually attached to the core borer all along. No sooner had they turned to head back to the iceberg when a huge chunk of ice broke off from the iceberg beneath the water line and the entire iceberg heaved up and over onto its side before eventually righting itself again and crashing back down into the water. The Man Upstairs was most definitely watching out for them that day because if they hadn’t had gone back for the “missing” part they and the dingy would have been pulled under the frigid water as the iceberg tilted. They didn’t anchor themselves to any more icebergs after that.

 

“Iceberg right ahead!”
The core sample.
Bagged and tagged and now on to the next ‘berg. 

 

Most unfortunately, they didn’t get to see any whales or polar bears out in the wild (I was REALLY hoping Chris would get to see some wild orcas) but they did see a lot of seals, birds, walruses and puffins!
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One of the really cool things about being that far north in the middle of the summer was getting to experience the midnight sun. The sun never sets up there during that time of year. The two photos just above ^^ were both taken around 2am!

 

This sign was as serious as a heart attack…
And of course, they got to do a lot of sailing, which Chris loved. When I asked him what were some of the coolest memories he has of the trip he said, “Definitely getting to sail above the Arctic Circle. We went above the 79th parallel!”

 

Definitely an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime adventure!