Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trolling in Norway

Spring had still not completely overtaken winter in Budapest, but I was assured by my dear long-term friend Helene that Norway was bursting with sunshine and warm breezes. So, OK, off to this country’s west coast, mainly the oil cities of Stavanger and Sandnes. For long-time devotees of my former hard-copy, snail-mail Lukatch Newsletter, you may recall that the exchange student my daughter and I hosted in 1986 was from Sandnes; too bad Eirik has moved to Ghent, so I won’t be able to see him this trip, but his moves might occasion another trip to visit him and also to see Brugge, both of them places on my List of Great Little Cities to See. More on that later.

I booked my departure flight more sensibly this time, leaving Budapest at 11:30 AM on Thursday, May 19. This time, instead of having to run to catch my connecting flight, I had a 2 ½-hour layover in Amsterdam. So here’s some good info re: Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport: if you happen to have a connection in the “B” Concourse, go to the little snack stand/bar next to Gate B16; they have great fried calamari and wonderful specialty beer, 6.5% alcohol, which will give you a very nice little buzz until your plane leaves. After my accommodating bartender Patrick foisted three of these little beauties on me, I seem to recall vaguely a strange American trying to get passing flyers to do the Macarena while riding on the moving sidewalk. Fortunately, my plane was called and I settled into (read: passed out) a comfy KLM seat and checked my eyelids for holes the entire rest of the trip.

I arrived at the Stavanger airport at 5:30 PM and there was Helene, waiting for me. Having exited so many airports alone over the years, I have now been greeted by friends at two consecutive arrivals; what a treat. I hopped into Helene’s cute little Renault electric car and away we went. It was my first time in one of these gems and I have to say I was impressed. Very quiet, no key to start up the system, and a rear-facing camera to guide you when moving in reverse and to tell you if you are out of line. Cool!

Helene and her husband Sten and their two daughters live on top of a hill in the general area of Sandnes, just a short drive from Stavanger. I met Helene when she and her other Norwegian friends and colleagues were wild and crazy medical students at Semmelweis University in Budapest, in the early 2000s. They’re now both settled down with kids and husbands and houses and doing good doctor work back home, but underneath it all I could still see those med students who danced on the tables at Beckett’s.

The hilltop was covered in either fog or low-hanging clouds, couldn’t tell which, but the view from their windows was only about 50 meters into the forest. Guess spring hadn’t quite arrived in Sandnes either. It’s a compact residential area up there in the clouds, however, with similar houses in the neighborhood, plus the kids’ schools, markets, trees and general quiet; must be all the electric cars. Two little blonde girls peeked out the doorway as we pulled into the driveway, Ragnhild (there’s a name to live up to!), who is six, and her sister Ingrid, 4. What a couple of cuties. Between them they probably had about three words of English, but we communicated just fine. We spent the evening at home, supping on Thai curry and maybe a few alcoholic concoctions and generally catching up on the years gone past. I’d met Sten briefly many years ago when he visited Budapest with Helene, but never had a chance to talk to him for very long, so it was good after all that time to be able to get to know him better. We stayed up talking until it finally got dark around 11 PM or so; it was, after all, nearly the time of the White Nights, where the sun hardly sets at all.

Friday dawned (as it were!) cloudy and rainy. I was bedded down in the bottom level of the three-level house and my windows faced almost east, so morning light visited me quite early. Helene had scheduled me for a fjord cruise that day, but the weather was so bad we decided to put it off until Monday, and hope for better weather. Breakfast with the family was continental style: salami, cheeses (lots of cheeses!), break bread (a Norwegian specialty, homemade by Helene before my arrival), fruits, juices, tea, etc. I was able again to have some of that great Norwegian goat cheese, which I dearly love; has the consistency of chocolate. And that break bread! Sort of a hard, flat biscuit, to be spread with jams, butter, cheeses, or whatever your taste buds desire; yummy.

The girls got off to school (Ragnhild walks the block or so with friends) and Helene off to work; she returned around noon and, since the rain had eased up, she took me on a tour of the surrounding area.
We went to Sola beach, which still had WWII bunkers perched on low-lying hillocks, along with tiny little summer houses for Norwegians lucky enough to be able to come to the shore for their vacations.
We also stopped by to see one of the ancient stone circles that abound in Norway, this one called “Domsteinane.” It was at least from the Iron Age and, you may think me crazy, but still seemed to exude a sense of power, although greatly diminished by time; weird.

We strolled through Sandnes’s downtown pedestrian shopping area, quaint and clean and not very busy on a Friday afternoon. The Norwegian economy had taken a beating recently, especially the oil industry, which employs most of the people in this part of the country, so there was a significantly high unemployment rate in general and, even for those who still had jobs, there just wasn’t a lot of disposable income after the high taxes. Difficult times for a lot of people.

That night was a barbecue feast with various meats, potatoes, salads, etc. Sten spent about an hour or so assembling the family’s new trampoline set for the kids; it seems the former trampoline had been unhooked from the grounding bars to mow the lawn, when a giant wind swept it away where it landed in the neighbors’ yard and virtually crumpled the entire thing (the trampoline, not the yard). The kids, with their friends, wore themselves out while we adults sucked down beer and gorged on barbecue. It was fun being back in a family atmosphere again after so many years away, and even the family cat seemed to enjoy my presence.

Saturday morning did actually dawn, with the sun and lots of light, but it was only Mother Nature playing tricks on us again, as the clouds rolled in after an hour or two and it was back to Norwegian Normal. Like my previous visit to Lina and Tom in Geneva, Helene and Sten slept in on Saturday mornings as long as possible, until the kids demanded they get up and play. After a continental breakfast, with that great break bread, Helene and I picked up our friend AK (Anna Katrina) and her youngest son and headed out to explore more of the area. We found an Iron Age cave near the coastline (named “Svartehola” – the cave, not the coastline) and then three gigantic swords thrust into the rocky ground of a nearby bay as a reminder of a huge Viking battle on the spot many centuries ago. Even though it was still raining, we also explored a Stone Age farm, complete with longhouse, although it was locked so we couldn’t go in.

Lunch was down at the Stavanger port area, a great seafood pasta accompanied by a very good local beer. More driving around, a few stops to check out local sights, then it was time for fish and chips at home. A Netflix movie rounded out the night.

Sunday was another late rising day and, after a light breakfast, we were off to the Oil Museum, down at the Stavanger port area. Now, you may think to yourself (as I did), “Hmm, oil museum? How exciting can that be? And how can they have an entire museum devoted to oil?” Well, I have to tell you, it was fun and exciting and informative and generally an all-around cool experience. After the kids played on the “Old Oil and Ship Equipment Playground” outside the museum, we met AK and her family and we all entered the interactive world of Big Oil.

Oil has been Stavanger’s raison d’etre for many years now and this museum is the industry’s public relations arm. Indoor structures for the kids to climb on, big models of oil rigs and platforms and ships, escape and disaster exhibits, escape chutes for adults (Sten did one with Ingrid, albeit rather slowly), firefighting suits you could put on and in which you could have your picture taken, some really interesting films devoted to oil and its origins and lots of other stuff to give you a feel for what working on the big oil platforms is like. A very worthwhile and entertaining 2-3 hours.

Then we all repaired to AK’s home for a typical Norwegian dinner of baked salmon, cucumbers with sour cream, veggies and potatoes, juice, ice cream or strawberries with cream – in short, your typical low-cal feast. With Helene and Sten, AK and her husband Joar, six kids (I think; I sort of lost count), and the appearance of AK’s brother, wife and newborn son, it was quite a crowd. A really fun and relaxed family gathering, so typical of home-based parties in Norway, where prices in restaurants are so high and space so dear. It was a great day and I reveled in it all. Home around 8 PM to get the kids to bed. I relaxed on the sofa and next thing I knew I had been formally accepted into the household when the family cat jumped up on the sofa and settled in my lap. Excellent!

Monday started out cloudy and misty, but cleared up by the time I was on the fjord. Light continental breakfast, kids off to school, Helene off to work; Sten drove me down to the port area to catch my 10 AM fjord cruise boat. I’d packed my suitcase and put it in Helen’s car, as she would pick me up in the afternoon and drive me to the airport, hopefully not interrupting her day too badly. I grabbed a window seat inside the boat, as the weather was still rather chilly, and we were off.

For interested parties, we traversed the Hogsfjord and entered the Lysefjord, making stops here and there to pick up other passengers. The fjord is breathtaking when cruising down its middle, even in cloudy weather. We saw a few sights along the way, including the Jettegrytten (pothole) in a small bay, a small mountain cave, local mountain goats which the boat crew fed from stored stocks (since the goats do not appear to have a way out of their tiny enclave along the banks) and finally came to the Big Sight of the day. Pulpit Rock is that flat-topped rock 600 meters above the fjord and is the most photographed image of Norway seen in all the travel advertisements, hanging precariously out over the fjord with courageous climbers sitting on the rock, often on its edge, looking out into space and amazing views. Not for me; I was happy seeing Pulpit Rock from down below and felt no need to take the two-hour climb to its top. It really is waaaay up there!

Our final stop was the lovely Hengjane Waterfall, which the boat approached close enough to grab a bucket of fresh Norwegian mountain spring water we could all taste. I sipped mine slowly and savored the taste of…yep, fresh Norwegian mountain spring water.

It was about an hour or so back to Stavanger and we maneuvered in between two huge cruise ships to the tiny little dock area. I had enough time to have a lunch of fresh mussels at the Phineas Fogg’s Around the World in Eighty Days restaurant. Mussels and beer, yum, and the restaurant is a truly magnificent place, decorated in the 19th century style of London clubs and pubs and various stops around the world. I wish I could have had Sunday brunch of roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding. Maybe next time.

And so it was time to go. Helene picked me up and took me to the airport, where my KLM flight was only 45 minutes late due to weather problems in Amsterdam. Back to Budapest and home by midnight, a fairly easy trip. And so we draw the curtain on yet another adventure of Travelin’ Man, my fourth trip of 2016. Watch this space for more to come; ten more days and off to Bosnia-Herzegovina, so you’ll barely have time to digest this present trip before you’ll be ready for another blog.

Until soonest…..


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