Take a tour of Iceland and Norway

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Column: Sara Aeikens, Creative Connections

Telling people that coming home from Iceland turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip, sounds like I had a case of homesickness. More about that later. To be truthful, our recent fantastic trip evolved due to my husband, Leo, deciding we would join Joan and Mark Anderson of Albert Lea, for a family reunion tour to Norway to the Hadeland region north of Oslo in a pastoral rural area.

Sara Aeikens

Both of us boast German roots and could not trace any Norwegian connections, so trip guide Byron Schmid, from Blaine, said the group would “adopt” us as cousins into the Gilbertson family tree. We started our journey in Bergen with walks along the fisherman’s wharf, and the two of us took a tour of the large city aquarium to learn about some native animals and fish.

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We journeyed by bus and then train for steep climbs and descents with scenic mountainsides showered by many breathtaking waterfalls and vivid greenery that pre-empted some sensations of carsickness for some. At a train station we all boarded a carferry boat for a half-day trip around the giant Sognefjord.

The highlight for me, which constantly camera-clicking Joan captured, occurred after noticing a fair sized flock of sea gulls following our open-ended ferry. The lower deck tourists enticed birds with bread bits, so on the upper deck I held out a marble shooter sized bread piece from my lunch, over the wooden rail between two fingers. My jaw dropped when a large black wing-tipped gull expertly snatched his prize without touching me.

Submitted Photo Albert Lean Brian Berhow with Northstar Powersports and Nels Anderssen of Sweden stand together on Aug. 13 at Northstar Powersports in Albert Lea. -- Submitted Photo

After returning to the wharf, we explored local shops and watched how huge ships, which pay rent to dock, pulled up their fat, twisted dock ropes to leave the harbor. Joan and Mark later met a sheepherder on a hillside using a bicycle instead of a dog to bring his herd home. The unique experiences in small snippets kept us constantly learning about cultural habits. The group toured a glass-making factory, a weaving factory and the Norwegian Salmon Center. We ate lots of tender savory-tasting fish.

Near Jevnaker, about an hour from Oslo we visited several centuries’ old churches and tracked names in the nearby graveyards and toured an open-air folk museum. We also visited farmsteads of Joan’s relatives and trekked down a pathway to a tiny private schoolhouse cabin rented out by one farmer for about 35 preschoolers. The grass roof, gravel floor and wood stove reminded me of my childhood Brownie camping experiences. Each child’s name etched across both a bowl and cup, child-size reindeer moccasins hanging from log rafters and reindeer skins for napping, added to rustic environment.

With history teaching backgrounds, Leo and I related to the in-depth explanations by our guide, who not only gave the Sunday sermon in English translated into Norwegian, but also arranged small group visits to homes of relatives in one rural region for a Norwegian coffee-time. Eating specially-made traditional desserts, we learned about family history and immigration patterns and thousands of family connections to America. At the main home lawn our group kept time with the folk dancers and musicians, some of whom were family members.

Our last two days together as a group we spent at the stately Grand Hotel in central Oslo, which made it easy to visit the city Wharf and take a boat with the Andersons to islands to tour the Kon-Tiki museum and a Viking ship museum. We also saw the Olympic Holmenkollen Ski Jump and wandered around hundreds of statues in the famous Vigeland Sculpture Park.

We spent an afternoon in the museum, that houses historical information about the Norway resistance movement during World War II.

It caused us to reflect on the values of Norway and the ancestors’ strength and determination. The recent bombing that happened just weeks before our Norway trip, permeated everyone’s thoughts when we visited the nearby cathedral with its entrance full of memorial flowers. The overwhelming local and international support for the many grieving gave us pause to consider the importance of working for peace and added a dimension to our visit to Oslo City Hall where they award the Nobel Peace Prize.

After concluding our Norway tour most of our group flew to Iceland. Leo and Mark flew back to Minnesota, and Joan and I stayed to explore Iceland for two days. It felt like a moon trip of rocky lava beds with added geysers, glaciers, wide waterfalls and hot springs to absorb with awe.

A packed plane home to USA provided another surprise. Three men on one side and two on the other, turned out to be a part of a motorcycle group of three women and seven men.

I asked the two on my side their names where they came from and Sven replied, “Sweden.”

I next inquired, “Where are you going?”

“Albert Leah,” Keith responded.

“You mean Alberta, Canada?” I asked.

“No, Albert Leah!” Keith repeated, and I promptly handed him my photo postcard from Albert Lea!

Nels Anderssen, who claimed himself the leader of their Sweden “tribe,” told me he met Brian Berhow from Northstar Powersports of Albert Lea, at a bike rally in Minneapolis a number of years ago. He’s purchased around 20 motorcycles from Brian and joked he is Brian’s best customer. They all rode in a limo to our town and stayed at American’s Best Value Inn near the motorcycle shop.

The next morning they purchased four Victory cycles and rented three others. They will return to Albert Lea after a cycle trip to Utah Salt Flats and Las Vegas. Then they’ll ship their USA bikes over to Sweden. I didn’t get any sleep on the plane trip home, but found conversations about Sweden, motorcycling and Albert Leah connections a highlight of our trip.

Sara Aeikens resides in Albert Lea.