Saturday, July 28, 2012

Visiting Westmalle Trappist Monastery and Brewery

Its theorized that the (once small) monastery in the town of Westmalle brews three beers because of the holy trinity. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it sounds plausible. Romy, Mark, and I were very excited to get a chance to visit Westmalle and try some of the beer they brew very secretly behind the endless monastery walls!

Arriving at the walls of the monastery.

The monastery was surrounded by a huge tall brick wall. When we first got there, we weren't exactly sure if the monastery was behind it or not, but we soon realized it was. Sometimes you could see over it, and it looked like a large complex of different buildings inside. I was shocked at the whole size of the operation, but then again, they are one of the largest Trappist breweries still brewing. Silly me for thinking it would have look any different!

So why are we so excited about this? I'm not sure. I find the entire story of Trappist breweries very interesting. In the past, when churches had a larger place in European society, monasteries were the main thing in small villages, often the reason the villages were there in the first place. The Trappists were (are) a religious order of the Roman Catholic church, and there are a lot of quirky things about them. For example, they only speak when absolutely necessary, and even invented their own form of sign language so they could avoid speaking as much as possible.

The walls just keep going and it might take hours to walk around the whole place.

In 1836 the Westmalle Trappist abbey decided they needed to brew their own beer, to stay self sufficient, in a way. This was not new. Many monasteries all over the place brewed their own beer, since the middle ages. The Trappists were just very active, and eventually even made a set of bylaws on how to brew the beer. Today there are only 8 authentic Trappist breweries/monasteries, one of them in Westmalle, and 6 out of 8 of them are in Belgium. Today instead of brewing to be self-sufficient, they brew to sell, so they can financially support their religious activities.

A break in the wall let us peek inside (not really).

At Westmalle, and all the other Trappist breweries (Orval, Chimay, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Achel, Koningshoeven, and Engelszell), the general public is not allowed inside. The brewing is according to a totally secret recipe and process, and that is the reason for the huge brick wall surrounding the premises. Another reason that the walls are there is that they must be according to the bylaws. All Trappist beers must be brewed entirely within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision. Luckily, we could still have a chance to taste the beer they brewed inside just across the street at a cafe built just for that purpose.

Cafe Trappist
The cafe across the street served everything that was brewed and made in the monastery.

When we got inside, we also learned that the monks made special cheese as well as beer. So, similar to what we had done in Gouda, we ordered the cheese platter and tried the beer. We were in heaven! Its soooo good. We had the Tripel, which has 9.5% abv, and is made with pale candy sugar. We also had the Dubbel, a darker 7%. They make another one but I don't think it was available when we were there. You can try some too. Westmalle beer is imported to the U.S., and so are some of the others, like Chimay (which you can find at Trader Joe's for a reasonable price), Rochefort, and Orval. I think its more difficult to find the others.

Cafe Trappist
What a treat!

Where do the names Dubbel and Tripel come from? Well, an interesting fact is that in the early days, there was no way of precisely measuring the alcohol content of beer, so in order to increase the alcohol strength, the monks used double the ingredients for a Dubbel and triple for a Tripel, marking the casks accordingly. Sometimes the labels on the bottles were equally ambiguous. The only way to differentiate the type of beer in a bottle was the color of the label. The modern labels still follow this rule, but some didn't even bother. To this day, the Westvleteren Abbey doesn't even label its bottled beer! It just comes in a capped plain brown bottle, like moonshine or something. No wonder its hard to find.

Cafe Trappist
We are all very happy to try the beer and cheese!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sun, Spacebombs, and Grazing

Well, it wasn't long before we all decided that Germany was boring and we wanted to go check out a place we'd all never really seen before - The Netherlands! Mark and Romy were into seeing the coast (I was too but not as much), and I wanted to see the windmills and all the dikes. So we arranged a rental car, and soon we were on our way.

We busted out of Braunschweig, heading west towards the ocean. Kind of different, much of the coast at the Germany/Netherlands border along the ocean is extremely tidal. The coast is a huge mud flat for kilometers out to a set of barrier islands. You can literally walk to them if you're fast. Then, when the tide comes back, the coast looks like a coast again. Boats return, people start swimming, kites start flying, etc. At one point, we accidentally stopped at a nudist beach. At first Mark and Romy were very intrigued, but when we realized it was a bunch of old fat men, we decided to quickly head back to the car.

Nude Mud German Guy
Nude mud guy at The Vat, Germany.

However, something off in the muddy distance caught our eye. We did not have a pair of binoculars, so we decided to take a picture with full zoom. When we realized what it was that we saw, we were just shocked. Apparently, a naked dude was running around far off shore in the mud, wiggling his butt into the sludge, pausing for a bit, and then running off to another place to do it all over again! GERMANS ARE JUST PLAIN WEIRD (at least this guy was)! I mean come on, it looks to me like there was a little boy out there too!!!

European Atlantic Coast Netherlands?

There are many campgrounds we saw on the map along the coast. This made us very excited because we wanted to camp and keep the trip as cheap as possible. Our mood slightly changed though, after we came to the first one (see picture above). Apparently, when Europeans "camp," its basically like going to an American trailer park. Richer families already have them permanently set up, with mini fences and everything! The one-night-only, tent campers are given a spot in a grassy field. And the spot wasn't even cheap! 35 euros per night to camp in the grass! Oh well, it still was the cheapest thing we could find, and they did have showers. The campground we stayed at was right on the coast, with a small dike separating you and the vast Atlantic ocean. This was something we would eventually see as being very common in the Netherlands. Dikes, dikes, and more dikes!

Wandering the street of Groningen, very confused.

Believe it or not, we got a little tired of driving over random dikes, staring at a mud flat which was supposed to be the ocean (the excitement of seeing the weird naked dude passed after a while). I make it sound horrible, but it really wasn't. I'm not too much of an ocean person I guess. Eventually, we couldn't keep following the tiny dike roads along the coast because of the crappy map we had, so the next day we turned inland towards one of the bigger cities to do some sight seeing. We stopped in Groningen, the Netherlands, for an afternoon of strolling the city streets.

Stopped for a few snacks before dinner time.

Groningen was full of surprises! We parked the car as close to the city center as we could, without having to pay, and then we just started walking. We strolled through the town square, looked at all the old buildings and churches, and almost got run over by the bicycle gangs that greatly out number the cars in the city. Mark had never been to a country where you could buy so many drugs legally, so it wasn't very long before we found a coffee shop. We bought ourselves a few space cakes, and continued on our adventure. There were so many parks, and we really liked the city a lot. It was getting close to sunset, so we started looking for hostels we could stay at. However, when we stopped in to ask how much they were charging, it was just crazy! Now, I realize I may make us sound extremely cheap, but we just came from Norway, where we were raped of all our money. So excuse us for trying to squeeze out a few more days of traveling on the cheap!

Camping in Roden
Another pristine, well manicured "campground" where we spent the night.

The nice people at the hostel recommended we camp instead, and pointed us to a camp ground just outside of the city border. We studied the map they had on the wall, but by this point, we were deep in our space cakes. They also had a nice interactive computer screen on the wall which showed a bunch of campgrounds out in the country side surrounding the city. We had plenty of options. So we headed back to the car, and tried to make our way to the nearest campground. We were so sure how to get there, until the streets started going one way only, or were blockaded for some reason or another. Soon we were driving in circles, trying to find detours. Finally we just decided to park and figure out how to get out of the city. Groningen chewed us up and decided to spit us out. The general direction we wanted to continue in was south, so we picked the main road out south, and finally got out of there. After only a short while, we found a small campground.

A nice windmill!

The campground had a locked gate in front of the entrance, so we parked the car to one side and Romy and Mark walked in to find the manager. I stayed in the car, waiting. Almost immediately after they left, a small old woman appeared out of nowhere and started circling the car. I was just staring at her, hoping she would go away. Then she started mumbling to herself. I was getting a bit freaked out. Then she called over to an old man, who also seemingly appeared out of nowhere, and joined her in pacing, circling around the car. Luckily, Romy, Mark, and the manager returned. The old man and lady started sqwaking to the manager, and then I realized it was because we had parked the car in front of her 'spot.' After we explained ourselves, the manager opened the gate and showed us to our 'spot.' A little area between pristine manicured hedges and trimmed grass. We were very happy, and set up camp for the night.

The Netherlands is a flat country, perfect for long peaceful bicycle rides.

The next morning, the bathroom cleaning lady (who was extremely grumpy) did not let us enter the bathroom because it was clearly cleaning time. This campground was as rigorous with their scheduling as the lawns were neat. I have a feeling it was a senior campground and they just let us stay the night. We ate breakfast while we were waiting for the cleaning lady to finish, although I didn't notice any difference from before she cleaned to after she was done! We decided to keep heading south, making random stops at anything we found interesting along the way. We decided to turn the trip into a culinary one, focusing on Belgian-style brewed beers (of which every town had their own brew). It was so much fun trying all the different beers, which you probably can't buy very far outside of the city.

Beer Stop in Meppel
Having a beer in Meppel.

One of the places that Mark saw on the map as we were driving was the town of Gouda! As in, gouda cheese! This was the town that the cheese was made in, with the local milk and recipe. So we just had to stop. What I found interesting was that once we got into the city, and started wandering around, it looked a lot like Belgium (I guess we were getting kind of close to the border). Also, there wasn't any big touristy cheese vibe that I could notice, which was nice, although we saw huge cheese wheels decorating the streets everywhere. We were surprised when we saw the large town square with a tall strange looking tower building in the middle. After wandering for a bit, we stopped at a cafe to order some beer and try the cheese.

The town square in Gouda.

The menu didn't have a cheese platter, so we asked the waitress if she could make one for us with a few local cheeses. She was excited to do it, and came back explaining what they all were. It was all soooo yummy! Throughout the trip, a major theme was "grazing." We never ate full meals the entire time. We only did grazing. Basically, its a thing "best done in herds," as Mark later described it. What you do is buy a whole bunch of fresh fruit, veges, and snacks like nuts, cheese, etc. Then you munch on them all day, whenever you get hungry. The cheese tasting platter was a part of this new grazing diet we made up. Its amazing how much food you can try without getting fat or overly full, if you only do a few bites here and there.

Gouda Cafe
Having some beer and sampling the cheese in Gouda!

That night we camped at a private campground again, located next to a nature preserve back on the coast. There were dunes and tall prairie-like grasses everywhere! We arrived rather late, just after sunset, and there was a gate that kept the campground locked up and secure. At this point, we just started learning to accept the European style of camping. We had to call the campground attendant, who arrived about 10 minutes later after peddling her bike from some other location (I wonder why the host didn't live at the campground?). Anyway, she was very nice, and got us a camp site next to some monster tents and permanently set up canvas houses. She was very concerned about informing us which tents had children in them, and which tents had surfing beach bums, and which were empty and for how long. We kept telling her we didn't care, that we just wanted to stay for one night, but she just had to tell us the whole life story of each summer resident we might pitch our tents next to. When we finally got around to paying for a spot and thanking her (almost an hour later), she disappeared, off on her bicycle again.

Holding Back the Ocean
This is how the Netherlands holds back the Atlantic Ocean. With an enormous dam!

The next morning we drove along the coast, heading south. Except this time, the beach roads were very large, and they took us over the top of extremely large dams that were literally holding back the Atlantic Ocean! The Netherlands, which when translated means "the low lands," used to be very marshy. Over time, people began building dikes and levees to farm some of the land. Today, they are at the point where the levees and dikes are now insane dams with complicated gates, allowing a controlled amount of the ocean water in. Dotted in between the huge dams were nice beaches (not the muddy wasteland of the Vat in Germany) and sections where the original dunes were preserved.

Netherlands Natural Coastline
This part of the Netherlands coastline was preserved (except for the wind turbine).

At this point, we were almost at the border of Belgium, and since we already started the beer tasting ball rolling, we figured we would try and visit some of the trappist monasteries in Belgium that are famous for brewing high alcohol, sweet and tart, complex tasting beers. We decided to head towards the town of Westmalle next. . .

Friday, July 20, 2012

Out of Norway!

Its almost hard to believe but after spending a few months in Norway we are finally leaving that weird (but beautiful) country for a little bit of fun! One of our old friends from UIC, Mark, has been working in Europe for the past few years, and we made some time to go visit him in Germany. The cheapest flight we could find out of Norway made a stop over in Oslo. We had quite a lot of time in Oslo once we landed (something like 5 hours or so), but sadly, since we picked the cheap flight, the airport where the stop over was at (Sandefjord) is something like 200km away. I thought it might suck to just sit at the airport for that long, but man was I wrong!

It turns out that the night before we left, our last day in Trondheim, we had a crazy party with the Germans we were living with. Lets just say that when we came home, drunk, we had only about 2 hours before we had to board the bus to the airport!! So, needless to say, when we found such an inviting set of park benches, in the warm sun, and next to some nicely manicured bushes just outside the airport terminal, we felt so relieved! We spent the 5 hours snoozing in the sun, like homeless people on benches, and sipping horrible instant 'coffee.' Not bad at all (except for the coffee part)!

Romy 7.20.2012
Trying to rest between flights, at the Sandefjord Lufthaven Torp airport.

Next, we will be boarding another short plane ride to Bremen, Germany. From there, we are hopping onto a regional train to get to Braunschweig, the town Mark currently lives in. I am not sure of the plans after that, but it's Mark, so who knows!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hiking to Holvassgamma Koie

We saw this picture and just had to go:

Holvassgamma Koie
Holvassgamma cabin (koie) in the Afjord region north of Trondheim.

This is just one of the cabins that are part of a network in the Trondheim area owned by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). They rent out the cabins on a first-come first-served basis to students and guests, and they have a website. So for our last weekend in Norway, we wanted to do a big hiking and camping trip. The weather was a bit unstable in the mountains where we originally wanted to go, so instead we opted for one of the cabins. We picked the one with the craziest hike, and the one which looked the coolest, but could still house at least 7 people (that's how many people were going all together; everybody in our shared apartment plus two other people).

Hiking to Holvassgamma Koie
Hiking to the cabin took almost 5 hours!

We had to reserve a car to get to the trail head where the hiking started. Once we got there (which was north of Trondheim and required a ferry ride across the fjord), we had about 3 hours of hiking, mainly uphill, ahead of us. We started at a farmhouse and walked up a road for a while. Then we started ram roding into the wet and soggy ground that is most of Scandinavia in the summer. A lot of the ground is rocky eroded mountain tops with little soil. Thick mats of carpet-like moss grow on top and the water just collects on the surface because it can't go through the rock below. We would hike uphill, hit a wet patch, and then a deep muddy hole even higher up another hillside. Water normally goes down, but the hill tops don't drain like you expect them to here. Sometimes there would be underground rivers, where you could hear the water cascading past larger boulders that were covered in a thick carpet of moss that you would float on top of. With each step it was like stepping into a huge sponge. Water would rush up, but it was usually really clean, filtered from the moss layer and also helped by the fact that there literally was no soil in many places, no dirt to get the water dirty.

Hiking to Holvassgamma Koie
We had to cross a small river to get to the cabin on the other side.

I walked with my Keens for the entire time, with wool socks. I think it worked well (I never tried it before). Yes, my feet were drenched and soaked, but the wool kept my feet warm. I didn't have to worry about where I stepped in order to prevent the water from going into my boot or whatever. I had no boots. When we got to the cabin eventually, I washed my feet, socks, and sandals in clean river water, and then put new dry socks on and a dry pair of slippers. My shoes dried out fast in the warm cabin, and so did my hiking wool socks! So I think this is the way I'm going to go from now on. Anyways. . . it took us almost 5 hours to reach the cabin because we got lost a few times and took a lot of breaks. It seems like the bigger the hiking group gets, the slower everyone hikes. But that's okay, I was enjoying the scenery.

Holvassgamma Koie
The cabin was very camouflaged and impossible to see from the other side of the river.

When we got to the general area that the cabin was in, we had to cross a small river to get to the other side where the cabin should have been. None of us went to this particular cabin before, and it was one of the most difficult to find, so we were in for an adventure. We paced back and forth along the shore of the Holvatnet thinking that the cabin should be close to the shore. But then after almost an hour, we decided to try what we first thought was a sheep path, which is why we ignored it at first. Bettina blazed up the sheep path and to our delight, actually found the cabin further up that tiny path! Everyone was so happy! We were seriously contemplating what to do in case we never found it.

Holvassgamma Koie
Bettina was the first to find the cabin! Good job! So happy to make it!

I went after Bettina, and so together we were the first to see the cabin. It was so cool looking! But there was a lot of sheep shit everywhere, which kind of sucked. It was mostly dry though. Everybody else came up the path and we all got settled into the cabin. The story about the cabin is that it was originally built by some Danish architecture students in 1972, who wanted to live in nature for one year. Apparently, they couldn't do it 100%, and trips back to the nearest town became more and more frequent. They canceled the whole thing after one of the students became pregnant. So the story I guess isn't very cool, but what is great was that they never demolished the cabin as they had intended to after the experiment was over. It was used by the locals for hunting and fishing for a few years, and then the cabin association (I am assuming an NTNUI related group) bought it and restored it for use in the cabin network. I guess it must have been hard for the people to live entirely from nature here. There isn't much good land for farming, but there is a lot of fresh water and fish and berries. Also, sheep are there so it must be okay to have sheep for milk, wool, and meat.

Holvassgamma Koie
We went fishing with Benni and Sebastian and caught 8 fish!

We brought plenty of food in our packs, so split between 7 people we had the luxury of bringing things like fruit, veges, yogurt, and other heavy things like wine! When we got there, we were all hungry, but we also wanted to try and go fishing to see if we could catch some fish and make it part of dinner. Only four of us were into fishing (the non-Norwegians), so we headed to the boat, while Bettina, Birgitte, and Sjo stayed in the cabin entertaining themselves and eventually making a lot of pasta. At the other side of the river was a boat that belonged to the cabin. We brought along some fishing poles and bait, which we took to the boat. We paddled out towards the middle of the lake, but the most bites were near the shore. In fact, on our first throw into the water, we caught a fish! Within 5 seconds too! It continued like that for the rest of the fishing trip. We caught 8 fish total. They were small, so we each had our own personal fish to eat.

Cooking Dinner!
We smoked and cooked the fish over an open campfire the first night.

When we got back to shore, we had to gut and clean the fish. I really was scared to touch the fish, so the three guys did that part. It took a long time to do 8 fish, so we were there for a while. It started getting cold! When we were finally done, we got back to the cabin and dinner was ready! I guess they didn't wait for the fish, which was okay, because we were super hungry. After pasta, vegies, and some wine, we built a campfire outside and started smoking/cooking the fish on sticks. They took a surprisingly long time to cook that way, and the meat got very dried out and smokey flavored. The next night, we decided to cook the fish in tin foil with onions and lemon slices. It was much better that way!

Holvassgamma Koie
View of the lake Holvatnet when we finally got some sun!

After the first night, half the group had to go back home so they could be back at work on Monday morning. We stayed an extra night with Benni, since it didn't matter about work for us on Monday. The second day, the weather cleared up really nicely and we actually enjoyed a bit of sunshine! We went fishing again, this time to a different lake which was about an hour hike away, to the north. We caught some fish which were slightly bigger (and cooked them in tin foil). We also made a lentil, rice, and vege stew which was great! And we had chocolate for desert and a good dose of hard liquor to wash it down (we drank all the wine on the first night, go figure!).

Holvassgamma Koie
Inside the cabin was very simple and cozy and warm!

We had a blast at the cabin! It was nice to get back to nature and experience life out of a primitive cabin. I really liked it. The morning we had to leave, the weather started turning gloomy. It rained on us almost the entire way back to the cabin! The wind was howling, but luckily it wasn't a very cold wind. We just trudged through it, and made it back in just over 2 hours! That's less than half the time it took us to get to the cabin. I think it's because we (a) never took a break from when we left the cabin to when we got to the car, and (b) were hiking as fast as we reasonably could so the rain would end faster or something! I guess we couldn't leave Norway without the typical Norwegian weather!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trondelag Folkemuseum

Another place that I noticed one day when we were biking up the big hill in Trondheim towards Bymarka was a huge outdoor museum. Behind a huge gate, which read "Trondelag Folkemuseum," were some cool looking old buildings and walking paths. I wondered what it was (obviously, some kind of museum), so when we got home from the bike trip, I googled it. What popped up was a link to the Sverresborg Trondelag Folkemuseum, a huge open-air museum that displayed almost 100 traditional Norwegian buildings. It was very reasonably priced for the student ticket, so we decided to go when it was sunny.

Trondelag Folkemuseum
A rich person's house from the early 1900s.

We took off early from work today, since the afternoon turned out beautiful, and packed some food and water into our bags, and then hoped on our bikes. It was pretty hot out, so we wore our padded biking shorts for the ride (yeah! warm enough for shorts almost never happens here). We were hoping to make the 2pm tour that was advertised on the website as part of the admission. When we got there, the tour actually started at 2:30pm, so we had a little while to look around the museum before the tour.

Trondelag Folkemuseum
A real medieval stave church, from the 1100's!

The closest thing to the place where the tour began was the 'old town.' This was a reconstruction of original buildings into what a typical town would look like. Many of the buildings were touching each other, creating a long corridor in front of which was a cobblestone street. Houses looked very similar to the grocery store, the dentist, or the tavern, for example. Many of the houses were made of painted wood with grass roofs. The buildings were very simple inside, and reminded me a lot of the ghost town buildings in the western US.

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Side view of the medieval stave church.

When the tour started, we were the only ones waiting! But as soon as the tour guide started walking away, more people joined us (this seems to happen a lot for us). The first stop on the tour took us to a medieval stave church. The church was from the 1100s, and it was all original. The wood has survived for so long because the people have used it constantly since then, and covered it in tar to keep it dry. The church itself was very small and had no windows! This was done on purpose because it was lit from inside with candles and that was part of the experience. There were no chairs, everybody just sat on the floor or stood for the entire church service. We got to go inside and it was really eerie but interesting! There are only 29 stave churches still left today. Most are very plain and simple like the one we saw, but there are a few that are crazy looking!

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Beer pitchers inside of a rich person's entertaining and dining hall building.

Next we stopped at a small traditional farm. Those buildings were made of wood, like a log cabin, and had a grassy roof. The roof was made like that to insulate the building and also so that the snow would fall more evenly on the roof in winter. The roof is actually water tight, even though it is only made of wood and bark lining, with some thick branches that act as terracing, so the plants and dirt don't slide off the roof. Some of the buildings were very well camouflaged because of the green roof!

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Part of a reconstructed farm, with the city of Trondheim in the background.

The tour guide told us that the farm house was usually a two room cabin, unless the family was rich. One room was the main family's quarters, and the other room was for grandparents. Couples were usually married off as a political thing between families, not for love. People would try to have a lot of children so there were more people to work on the farm! They would eat porridge for three meals a day, supplemented by dairy, fish or fruit/veges in season. It was also very important to brew beer. We learned that it was written into Norwegian law that if you had over a certain amount of acreage (or something like that), you were required to brew beer by law. The Norwegians say "skal" instead of "cheers." Skal literally means bowl, and the saying is from the fact that the brewers would bring beer up from the basement in huge pitchers, and then pour the beer into even larger broad bowls on the table. People would pass the huge bowl and drink directly from it. The tour guide also told us why it is customary in many places to clink your glasses together when you say cheers or skal. That is a relict of times when people used to murder each other by poisoning the others' drink. Because of this, people would slam their drinks together so that some of the liquid from one person's drink would splash into the other's. That way, if you poisoned somebody's drink, you might end up poisoning yourself. It must of happened a lot because the tradition is still going strong!

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Old city streets as they would've looked in the early 1900s.

The tour guide was really great, and she was a singer too. She would sing us old traditional folk songs. In another church that was more recent (not medieval) she sang us an old hymn. Then she told us that the women would have to sit on the north side of the church, and the men on the south side. The north side had no windows and was thought of as the evil side because evil came from the north. The women served as protection between the men's side and the evil north. The people didn't bother making windows on the north side because that's where the women sat. Isn't that crazy?

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Old city apartment houses from the early 1900s.

We learned so much during the tour! She also told us how you would be able to tell if a person was rich or not by how they painted their house. Red paint was fairly easy and cheap to make, and it was partially made red by mixing in animal blood. White was the most expensive color to make and buy. So if you were rich, you painted your house white. If you were poor, it was red. To this day, most of the norwegian houses that we saw in town or on road trips through the country are painted either red or white. I don't think it's a symbol of wealth anymore, but the traditional colors still are showing to this day!

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Inside the ski museum, we saw what looked like Romy's mom!

One of the last things we saw as we went through the outdoor part of the museum was the Sami huts and the boathouse. The Sami huts were basically debris shelters with a wooden frame to keep the debris from falling in on itself and collapsing. The Samis made a winter hut and a summer hut. The winter one was small and cozy, easy to heat. The summer one was large and roomy. They store food in elevated shacks which were on stilts. This kept the mice and other rodents out because they couldn't climb the stilts. In the boathouse, we saw how they used to make buoys. They would wrap tree bark on itself until it formed a huge ball. Then they would wrap the ball with a tightly fitting net to keep it all together. It floats just like a modern day buoy and its totally natural.

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Who needs modern gaiters when you can have leather pants with colorful weaved things to keep the snow out of your animal hide ski boots?

After we were done with the outdoor stuff, we went inside to the ski museum. Norwegians love to ski, but many don't ski downhill, they ski cross country style. It was normal, back in the days, to make your own pair of wooden skis every season. It would take a person about 2 days to make a pair. Each region in the country had a unique way of making skis, based on the predominant snow conditions. They usually had only one large pole instead of two. They would ski with animal hide or skin on the bottom of the skis to provide traction when going uphill. It also was much quieter, so the Norwegians would hunt with skins on. Snow shoes were relatively unknown and unused, surprisingly. The museum said that the only use for a snow shoe was for hunters who would have a snow-shoe type thing on one foot, and a ski on the other. They would do a glide and hop motion to get to their prey much quicker than if they were on two skis. That is so interesting!

Trondelag Folkemuseum
Hand carved wooden cross-country skis from Norway.

At the museum, they also showed the dress that people wore while skiing, from ancient times to modern times. At first it was very caveman-like, with thick skins covering people's bodies. Then the clothes became sportier with weaved wool clothes and leather pants. Skiing for a majority in Norwegian history was not a sport. It was another means of transportation, like walking, when there was snow on the ground. In the early and mid 1900s, men began to go skiing as a social outing, and it slowly evolved just recently into a sport. Women were not allowed, and it also wasn't proper for women to dress in sportier more comfortable clothes to go skiing. Eventually that changed and now skiing is something completely different. Near the exit of the museum, it said that now not even half of Norwegian children own a pair of skis, or even know how to ski! What a change in just 100 years!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum

It rains a lot in Trondheim, so some evenings or afternoons, we are stuck indoors. After a while, I started looking around in some of the tourist brochures on what to do indoors in Trondheim that wasn't too expensive. Going out to a cafe or brewery is out of the question, since a pitcher of decently brewed beer costs about $50 and any normal meal in a typical cafe or restaurant is at least $20-$30 a plate! Well, anyways, enough complaining about Norwegian food prices, and on to something more interesting. . .

Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum

I found out about a cool small museum called the Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts, located in the city center. This summer, it was having a mid-century modern exhibit, which was displaying a lot of furniture (mainly chairs) and fabrics from the 50s and 60s. Most of it was Scandinavian, but there was supposedly stuff from other European countries and even a few pieces from the US.

Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum

Student tickets were pretty cheap, so we opted to go on one rainy day. The mid-century modern exhibit (which all the pictures are from) was kind of small, but really cool! They had a lot of chairs and everything was so colorful and unique. I really like it and I wish I could take all of those chairs home with me! Unfortunately, you couldn't sit in them to try out how comfortable they were. There were a few egg chairs that looked nice, but who knows how comfortable they really were.

Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum

In the other parts of the museum, they had modern-ish tapestries and in the basement they had some really old Norwegian furniture from the 1500-1700s that looked like they belonged in a castle or palace. Very heavy and wooden or metal. They also had an abstract modern art part that was just freaky and ugly. We hurried along through that section. I think the only part that was worth seeing in my opinion was the mid-century modern exhibit, which is essentially what we came for.

Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum

Hardly anybody was in the museum. We saw only one other woman. When we stopped by there over the weekend to inquire about opening hours and prices, there seemed to be a lot more people. I guess since it was Tuesday, we had the whole museum to ourselves!

Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Drive From Trondheim to Bergen: Day 2 and 3

The night spent 'camping' inside of the Toyota Urban Cruiser actually wasn't so bad. (If you have no idea what I am referring to, read the first part of the post here) It was much quicker to pack everything up and refold the seats that morning, than it was setting it up last night. We wanted to wake up earlier than we did, but since we didn't get to sleep last night until close to 2am, when we woke up at about 8:30am-ish, that was ok with us. We woke up to this view:


Yesterday was so beautiful and sunny and warm, but today was going to be overcast and a bit chillier. That is actually the normal weather in Norway, cold and rainy or overcast. So I guess the really nice weather we had yesterday was just lucky! My first concern after hitting the road was to try and find some coffee. Since this is Norway, and everything is crazy expensive, going to a cafe to get a nice latte or cappuccino was out of the question, since that would cost at least $10. We opted for the cheaper gas station coffee machine option, which was "only" 25 kroner, or almost $5. I was still so sleepy when I got the coffee, I totally didn't notice the coffee machine for the public customers right in the front of the store, and I somehow wandered into the employee break room where I found a smaller coffee machine (but it made bigger sized coffees) and made two nice big coffees. Then when I went to the register, the cashier was so confused when I tried paying for the coffee. He asked me, "Where did you get this?" And I told him, and pointed to the break room. I now felt a little embarassed, after he pointed to the big gigantic coffee machine for the public use. Oops! Oh well!

There were many spectacular waterfalls along the way to Bergen.

After coffee, everything was okay and we kept driving south towards Bergen. We stayed semi-inland, so the terrain was mostly mountains and lakes. It reminded Romy of Switzerland and the Alps. I thought it was cool too! When we were almost there, we had only one more ferry boat to get on, the one that crossed Sognefjorden, the largest fjord in Norway. In a way, the larger the fjord, the less spectacular it is. That's because the dimensions aren't as impressive, relatively speaking. In my opinion, the best fjords were the tall and skinny ones. The wide ones just look like a huge mountain lake or something (not that mountain lakes are cool. . .)

The city of Bergen from above.

It didn't take us long to get to Bergen once we were over the Sognefjorden. The weather started getting gloomier and rainy, but we just hoped for the best. Along the way, I was feeling like more coffee, so we stopped at another gas station place. We found a little shop that sold waffles and coffee for 10 kroner each, so we got some to try. They had nice picnic tables outside where you could eat, perched above the fjord we just crossed over. The waffles were really good, like crepes. But it didn't take us very long to eat them, and drink the coffee too, so we were soon on our way again. I texted Cova to let her know we were on our way!

Jenn Romy 7.7.2012
We visited my friend Cova and her fiance Vidar in Bergen.

Cova lives with her fiance, Vidar, in the center of Bergen. It was really easy finding her condo, so we had no trouble, even with our crappy map. It was so nice to see Cova again! She had a spare bedroom where she set us up with fresh sheets and towels, and she even made us some fresh coffee when we got there! Then we went out to walk around the city for a while. We saw the downtown shopping area and main square, and then we walked to the ports and docks. In Bergen there is a section of very old houses (almost 1000 years old) and warehouses that are still standing, called Bryggen. Most of them are really crooked and there isn't a 90 degree corner anywhere. It was really funny to walk through. Now there are a bunch of shops and stuff built inside the old buildings. We also saw the old fort building nearby Bryggen. Next, we went up the big hill behind the city, and climbed up the steep streets through a really nice neighborhood. When we got near the top, you could see almost the whole city of Bergen below. It was neat, but also very tiring (well, not really but we were already kind of tired). So it was time for a beer!

Romy 7.8.2012
Romy found a VW nut on the Norwegian equivalent of craigslist. He explored his mini junkyard of VWs and bought a few parts.

That afternoon we went bar/restaurant hopping, have a beer here, and beer there, and then dinner at a new restaurant that had four menus to chose from. Vidar finally got off work and joined us about an hour after our first beer. They told us about their jobs. They both work for the oil industry. Cova designs pumps and Vidar designs two phase flow meters and also takes care of customer servicing for the flow meters. They are going to get married next year in Spain! How exciting! They had a really nice condo, which was very nice to come back to after a late night out. We've been living in a relatively crappy shared apartment flat with a bunch of old and half the time broken and unmaintained things. It was nice to be in a normal abode for the first time in almost two months where everything was functional!

Lærdal Tunnel
On the way back to Trondheim, we drove through the Lærdal Tunnel.

We couldn't stay long in Bergen the next morning. After a nice big breakfast of pancakes and some fruit, we packed up and hit the road. The weather was improving again as we drove back. This time, we took the inland route, which is the main way most people drive when they are going north-south across the country. One of the highlights was stopping in Voss. The city itself was okay, but we were there to see a guy who had a whole bunch of old VWs. Romy found this guy on, which is the Norwegian version of craigslist. He lived just up the mountain from Voss, a few kilometers away. And by the way, Voss is the city where the super expensive bottled water comes from, called Voss. I guess they take the water from the lake or something? Not sure why anybody would pay for Voss water (unless its the cheapest option on the menu like in the John Hancock Tower in Chicago). Well, anyways, when we got there, we knew we were in the right place. Suddenly, out of the forested mountainside, a whole bunch of VWs popped up. Beetles, bay windows, old splits, and even some dokas and syncros were all there. It was cool! Needless to say, we spent over an hour there as Romy talked to Christer about all of his projects and cars. Romy even bought a few parts from him, some lights and parts for the beetle dashboard for pretty cheap. And now we know somebody in Norway who can get us a diesel doka syncro when we are ready!

Romy getting ready to check the waters for a dip!

It was almost 5pm and we were barely out of Bergen still in Voss at Christer's VW place. I gave Romy the signal that it was probably a good time to leave, and in the typical Romy fashion, we were ready to go about 1/2 hour after that. We tried to pick the most direct route back as possible, which involved choosing between a ferry boat, or a really really long tunnel, 25km long. I wanted to do the tunnel because it was so long and that in itself made it more interesting to me. I am really glad we picked the tunnel because it ended up being super cool! As we drove through, we had to stay at the speed limit because there are speed cameras inside of the tunnel. This is a form of Norwegian torture. They can be anywhere and there can be multiple, with only one warning sign to let you know. The speed limit is (I think) 80 kmph, which is a crawling 50 mph!!!! So slow! So you can image, we had some time to enjoy the scenery inside the tunnel which consisted of dirty rock walls, some weak lighting, and large fans every once in a while. But every few kilometers (this tunnel was 25 km long) there were these super brightly lit rest areas to stop and pull over in. They were partly to wake you up and partly just cool, like an art form. I was afraid to get out at first because the air inside the tunnel was probably nasty. Later I read that the tunnel has its own air filtration system. We decided to stop and get out and take a few pictures at the last rest area. The air didn't smell too bad. When we got home, I googled the tunnel and figured out that it is in fact, the longest road tunnel in the world and it's called the Lærdal Tunnel! And we drove it by chance! That was so cool!

A polar dip!

The road next took us into the mountains of south central Norway. This is where there is a high concentration of Norwegian National Parks, so it was a neat area to see. The mountains were really beautiful and a lot of the landscape was glacially eroded, like the fjords along the coast. Some mountains were rounded on top and others were jagged. There was a lot of snow. We passed by Jotunheimen National Park where we saw a few tiny glaciers and some still frozen mountain lakes. Romy decided it was a good time to take a dip! It was a short dip, but I witnessed it, and he went fully in the water and stayed in for a little while so it was a real polar dip! Other than that, another highlight of the drive was the fact that in Norway, the passenger inside the car is allowed to drink alcoholic beverages. So of course, I had one cold beer with me, and I opened it and enjoyed a beer while we drove through the mountains on our way back home. It was strange, and I felt like I shouldn't be doing it because I am just used to that way! Every car that passed by I wanted to hide my can of beer! Towards the end of the can, I didn't care as much anymore :)

A typical road through the mountains of the interior part of the country.

Because it was still a long long way back to Trondheim at the Norwegian speed limits, we didn't end up getting back to our place until 2am! When we finally did get back, we went to sleep for a few hours, and then had to get up before 8am to return the car back to SIXT. What a journey! I felt like we saw so much in just 3 days. It was so worth it and I wish we had more time to do road trips like that. I love road trips!