Saturday, June 09, 2007

from Lofthus, Norway: boatsmen, brooks and buffets

I admire the Vikings. I do. When the winds were low, they took out those big wooden oars and rowed like there’s no tomorrow. And they got places!

It is morning in Lofthus, Norway. Tractors are mowing the grasses that grow between cherry and apple trees. I am trying to work (that’s the June plan: work in the a.m., be out and about in the p.m.).

Like a kid waiting for the bell to ring, I count the minutes til noon. Finally. Time to sail the fjords. With long wooden oars resting in quaint brackets of a big row boat.


Except, that damn thing is moving so very very slowly! I stare at a spot behind me and occasionally look around to see how far I have traveled and it’s always such a disappointment. I mean, I know I could not get to the ocean and back again in one afternoon – this is the world’s third longest fjord after all, but still, can’t I at least see what’s around the bend?

No I cannot. After an hour of heave-hoeing, I turn around and head back.

My arms ache from going nowhere. My one pleasure is watching the ripples from my oars create fantastic distortions to the mountains reflected in the water. Like I said, I admire the Vikings.


The afternoon is young and I am feeling peppy. A short hike would be terrific. This time I know to ask for a gentle stroll. Their gentle is my idea of big time exercise. I have read that Grieg liked to do the river walk over to the falls. (Perhaps with his wife, Nina?) He can’t have sweated excessively before sitting down to compose.

That’s an easy one – the desk clerk informs me.

The sun is hot, but I am in comfy espadrilles made by the women of Basque (they know their walking shoes in the Basque) and an airy tank top, and I fill my big bottle with icy water. I am so ready.

I pass the church – a 13th century building, well tended, quite pretty inside in a Scandinavian sort of way…



I pass so many buildings with slate roofs sprouting grasses, trees even.


And then, I turn up the hill to follow the river – more like a raging stream, really, rushing the waters from two magnificent falls.


The walk is lovely. Thumbs up for Grieg’s choice of inspirational walks. Sure, there is an incline, but every few kilometers, there is a wooden bench where you can sit and contemplate raging brooks and piano notes and whatever else inspires you.

I have to say that, as is so often the case, life throws a nice little punch at those who think they can prepare themselves for a comfortable existence. That hiking outfit that was to serve me well for this walk? A complete mismatch for the kilometers of path along the rushing waters. Do you know how cold that water is? And how cold the air is at the side of its banks?

True, I am grateful for my bottle of water. Though I’m remembering the Norwegian couple whom I met at the top of the Nose yesterday. I had said how thirsty I had been climbing up. They laughed.

You have streams here. Why didn’t you drink from them? We never carry water bottles!
But the guide book says not to drink from the springs!

They looked at me with sympathetic eyes. I’m sure they were thinking – oh, you Americans! Don’t you know how to live?

My path reaches the base of the lesser falls and a little footbridge allows for a moment of such great beauty that you might as well sit down and... write music.


The nippy air keeps me moving though. After taking scores of photos, all looking pretty much like the other, I cross over and follow the trail back down again, past wet rocks with clumps of moss and flowers…


…past ferns and birches and all the beautiful shades of green that spring brings forth.

In the village, I walk through the orchards one last time and for a moment I am almost ready to call them as beautiful as grape vines. Look at this row of dancing girls, with their wobbly knees and sweeping arms of green:


It’s warm again. I pass village people, going about their days.


Scenes of tranquility. The fjord becomes nothing more than wallpaper to the routines of daily life. Yes, yes, we have these deep crevices filled with water but there are fruit trees that have been producing fruit for hundreds of years in this area and we must tend to them and water our lupines and pick up our children from school and get on with bread making and the like.



It’s evening. The rare motorboat cuts an arch of light and the ripples pick up the June rays on the quiet fjord waters.


Me, I’m ready for that great Scandinavian eating experience – the buffet.

I’ve been avoiding eating such a dinner. I’m not cut out for buffets. I’m too much of a porker when it comes to food and if you place me in front of tables heaped with all sorts of regional delicacies, I am likely to overdo.

But, I am in Scandinavia after all. And the a la carte meals are too expensive for what follows. So here I am, at what has been described as a wonderfully memorable buffet.

I am given a choice table by the window. The family who owns this hotel has a vast number of relatives in Wisconsin and they have told me all about their trip several years back to visit their kinfolk in the New World. (Their visit was during the month of November, which I thought was an odd time to travel to Wisconsin, until I remembered that their own November has no light.) I think my prime table is the result of their fondness for those Wisconsin relatives.

And so the eating begins.

If I thought the Norwegians were sort of tame in the kitchen, I have to hand it to them now: they are superb at the buffet.

The seafood is, for me, the draw: baby shrimp with three colors of roe. Langoustines, heaping platefuls of them. Salmon: poached, baked, grilled, smoked – all types, artfully presented. Mussels, trout -- it’s all there.

You do not believe that I eat as much as I say I do? Here’s plate number one:


And then I have the nerve to go back and design a salad course, which has reruns of my favorite seafoods piled on top.


I’m not hungry for the meats, but they come strongly recommended and I did tell myself I would have a bit of reindeer once, just because everyone here eats reindeer and to that one must add veggies and potatoes, right?


I did cut back on the cheeses. These people are not cheese freaks like the French. In fact, I was so sure that most of the cheeses on the board were actually from south of the Baltic Sea that I had someone come out from the kitchen to pick out the Norwegian among them and they couldn’t do it! There is not enough cheese pride in Norway.


Dessert – what can I say. It was a tough choice…


…so I had a little of this and a little of that.

And the rest is a blur.

Saturday. I head back to Oslo this afternoon. I’m reconnecting there with my daughter for a three night stay in the city. One hopes I’ll be on best behavior, and not go chasing mountains and dipping long oars into still waters. One must set an example after all. The young are so impressionable.

One last look at the fjords then. I'm dropped off up the fjord, at the pier, where the ferry is about to cross me over.


On it, I watch a group of impressionable very young Norwegians, packing in a whole little meal in the seven minute crossing. It’ll make them grow tall and strong. To work the oars maybe.