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London: Hampton Court
I have a problem. I tend to pass quick judgement on things before I even give them a chance.

 

A perfect example of this is movies. When I was younger, my mom had to force me to watch The Princess Bride. It sounded horribly boring and I remember putting up a big stink about it when it was announced we were watching it for family movie night. But of course I ended up loving it! It happened again with Pirates of the Caribbean. My mom and my friend, Julie, wanted to see it while we were visiting San Diego together so I had no choice but to go with them, but I secretly thought it was super lame that Disney couldn’t think of any better ideas and had to resort to basing movies off their Disneyland rides. Then BAM! It ended up as of my favorite movies of all time.

 

You would think I would have learned by now after a lifetime of this, but no, it happened AGAIN in London when one of the top things on my parents’ sightseeing wish list was to visit Hampton Court. To me it sounded like a huge hassle to waste a full day of our trip to take a train outside of London to see some country home of one of the hundreds of English kings. Why don’t we just stay IN London and see all the cool things there are to do there? Then BAM! It ended up as one of my very favorite things we saw on the entire trip. As usual, my parents were spot on and we all had a blast spending the entire day wandering the halls of this HUGE country palace of King Henry the VIII.

 

 

We learned all about the opulence and extravagance of King Henry the VIII’s court and his wives and the royal culture of the time. I had heard of King Henry the VIII and a few nuggets of information here and there sounded familiar (probably due to my world history classes in high school), but if I was asked a question about him on Jeopardy I would be a lost cause. However, being there and seeing it all in person suddenly made it all so much more fascinating and real! Henry the VIII was a pretty sketchy dude and the story of his life and the lives of his many wives could fill episode after episode of a TV drama (oh wait…it has.) 16th century English history suddenly became soooo much more fascinating.

 

 

Both mine and Chris’ absolute FAVORITE part of the entire palace was the kitchen. His Highness would frequently entertain a court of over 1000 people PLUS servants and therefore his palace had to have the kitchen facilities to accommodate all those hungry people at least twice a day. It was fascinating to see how food was produced on that large of a scale back in the day. I really think food can give you more insight into a time period and culture than almost any other historical artifacts. The kitchens at Hampton Court were huge! Rooms and rooms of food production, giant vats of boiled meat, tables and tables of meat pies and giant fireplaces with huge roasting spits. We saw where they had almost a steady stream of wagons delivering meat and produce day after day and learned all about the ingenious ways they devised to store it all. I can’t even imagine what this place would have looked like in full production!  According to Hampton Court’s website:

The annual provision of meat for the Tudor court stood at 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar. This was all washed down with 600,000 gallons of beer.

A Spanish visitor to the Tudor court in 1554 said that the kitchens were ‘veritable hells, such is the stir and bustle in them … there is plenty of beer here, and they drink more than would fill the Valladolid river.’

I left this room craving British meat pies. All I wanted was a steaming hot pastry filled with gravy, vegetables, and meat. It was immensely satisfying that later that night we ate at a pub that happened to serve them.

 

I also stumbled upon my new dream job (believe it or not decorating cakes is not actually my dream job) there at Hampton Court. These guys working in the kitchen dressed in costume were Experimental Food Historians. Basically, they work at Hampton Court researching methods of food production in 16th century England. They create all the pots, pans and tools using old techniques based on the designs of the actual artifacts they found from the time period and then cook food in them to try to figure out how they did it, what it tasted like, and what it means in terms of history. They base their studies off of old records, historical accounts, and paintings to try to figure out what food culture was actual like for the royals and servants at the time. They do a lot of their experiments in costume during opening hours so the tourists can watch them prepare the food and listen to them tell about the history of the kitchens and they roast their preparations on spits in the huge fireplaces like they would have back in Hampton Court’s heyday. Unfortunately, due to British health codes they aren’t allowed to feed the food they cook to the visitors, so at the end of the day they all gather together and have a big feast. Here’s a really good story from the New Yorker about the work of the experimental food historians at Hampton Court. I would SERIOUSLY love this job. I didn’t even know a job like this existed but now that I do I’m seriously looking into it for the future. I don’t plan on decorating cakes forever!

 


Today the food historians were trying to recreate a cockatrice, or a centerpiece dish that involved a pig and a goose being sewn together to create a “mythical” animal. We didn’t get to see the finished and roasted dish, but it sure sounded cool.


The giant roasting spits. 


It might only be interesting to you if you’ve been there (or if you have an interest in Tudor England), but just for reference here is a fascinating fact sheet about the Hampton Court kitchens and here is a cool article about a chocolate kitchen run by Henry the VIII’s chocolatier they recently unearthed. We thought it was all so cool!



Clearly we thought the kitchens were the coolest part, because we didn’t get very many pictures of the rest of the place (except for this room decorated with weapons!) I feel a little bad about it because the rest of the palace was almost just as impressive! We got to see the royal apartments, the chapel, the room where King Henry was married to Catherine Parr, and loads of other rooms all built to house the giant Tudor court. The whole palace was absolutely fascinating and I couldn’t get enough of all the history. I spent a good portion of that evening soaking in the bathtub (it was a whole lot of walking for a pregnant lady!) reading as many articles as I could find on King Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty on my iPad and shouting facts to Chris (who was outside on the bed trying to relax with the TV and who was a really good sport about it :) ).  The best fact of all? What happened to Henry when he died! Totally grody.




Thanks Mom and Dad for another major win!

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!

 

Bergen with the family Hill

Bergen will forever remain one of my favorite Norwegian cities, no matter how many times we visit. It has the perfect combination of big-city-grandeur and small-village-charm with its eclectic architecture and fascinating history. So when the Hills wanted to see Norway we knew Bergen was top on the list of places to take them.

 

Emma gave herself a photo challenge for the duration of her trip to photograph as many flowers as she could. Here she is living up to her challenge and photographing some Bergenese flowers.

 

Mom loves to sew and is a part of a local stitching club. One of the stitches often talked about in her club is the Hardanger Stitch, so we knew we had to focus on the amazing artistry of embroidery on the Hardanger region bunads. We found an awesome shop that makes custom bunads and I think she was in her own personal heaven!
The rest of the family wasn’t so thrilled that so much time was spent in a sewing shop ;)
Exploring the outdoor fish market. Emma and I got to try samples of roasted whale!
These crabs were as big as small dogs!

 

The past two times Chris and I have been in Bergen we have passed this antique/flea market shop and each time it has been closed. This time it was finally open and we got to explore the treasures within! It was worth the wait! So many cool things crammed into every nook and cranny. Some of my favorites were antique newspaper letterpress type blocks and old nautical charts from WWII. Chris found a bunch of cool swords and Mom and Dad loved the antique coins. It’s probably a good thing they don’t have something like this in Stavanger because I would waste so much time just combing through everything in the store and trying to imagine its history. And of course, despite having a flea market feel, the prices were still Norway prices. Which, again, is probably a good thing because we would have left with half the store if they were cheaper :) If you are ever in Bergen and need a good souvenir, I would definitely try this place over any of the “tourist” shops any day!
The view from the top of Mt. Fløyen
Brother and sister.
Brygge
Chris and his almost dream boat (This was the Hallberg-Rassy 62 and his dream boat is the Hallberg-Rassy 64). Someday when we have a million $$ or two just lying around burning a hole in our pocket she will be ours :)

In typical fashion, we used Bergen as our launching point for a grander Norwegian adventure into the mountains and fjords. More on that soon!