Reflections on international living and travel
 

 

 

Ira and Jeffrey in front of  Bondhusvatnet glacier lake 
Ira and Jeffrey in front of Bondhusvatnet glacier lake.

 

A Delightful and Thoughtful Family Trip to Norway

Odda, Norway - September 2022 - By Jeffrey

For a handful of reasons, my sons and I had not taken a family trip together since COVID 19 invaded the world. It was time to change that. We all had free time in September. However, there was one issue. Ira and I had also been talking of doing a trip in September. Fortunately, there was an easy solution. I asked Ira if she was comfortable travelling with my sons. She was. I asked my sons if they were comfortable travelling with her. They were. I didn't ask anyone about being comfortable travelling with me. I wasn't sure I'd like the answer.

We decided on a road trip to Norway to do some hiking. As it was a long journey, we broke it by staying a couple of days in Aarhus, Denmark which is populated by a surprising number of incredibly nice people. So nice, they make Canadians seem mean. I'll write about our Aarhus experience in another story. This story is going to be about Norway, hiking paths and the paths of life.

 

Even the roadside rest stops in Norway are beautiful
Even the roadside rest areas in Norway are beautiful.

 

The Long and Winding Road

Guided by the car's GPS, we zipped along amazingly uncluttered roads from Aarhus to Hirshals, where we boarded a ferry for a three and half hour cruise to Kristansand, Norway. The ferry ride was unremarkable aside from the impressive buffet lunch that was served. Counter upon counter offered salads, meats and fresh seafood. Lots of it. More importantly, the food was surprisingly tasty and decent value for money, especially considering my sons' appetites. I reckon they consumed just short a half ton of fresh seafood and other dishes between them.

We disembarked in Norway and allowed the GPS to lead us up a long and winding road to our holiday apartment in Odda. The drive was stunning. We drove through pine forests and along twisty mountainside roads that sometimes lead us above the tree line, a space of desolate beauty that sings to me like a beautiful piece of music in g-minor. We drove through tunnels and passed deep blue lakes and quiet towns of wooden houses.

However, the road took on a different nature as it got dark. The roads were less than well lit, often narrow and sometime devoid of a white line down the middle. For parts of the journey, the car was a scant few centimeters from canyon wall. As headlights approached, it was instinctive to veer to the right, but that would have scraped the hell out of Scooby-Blue (my car - a blue Subaru). So, I kept the car on the straight and narrow as locals, accustomed to the road, zipped past me on the opposite lane at speeds approaching that of sound.

In spite of the final occasionally scary kilometers, we all enjoyed the ride and the endlessly stunning views. Even the roadside rest areas were gorgeous. Better still, they had impressively clean and pleasant toilets. If you have a weak bladder, Norway is a great country to visit.

In fact, we could have flown to Bergen and hired a car to get around. Had we done so, we'd have had more time in Hargangerfjord, but we'd have missed the beauty of the road trip and the niceness of Aarhus.

 

The patchwork family at the start of the Trolltunga walk.
The patchwork family at the start of the Trolltunga walk.

Personal Journeys

In addition to the road trip, we were all going through personal journeys of our own. My youngest son is doing his masters degree in artificial intelligence engineering. My elder son is a mathematician doing research and a PhD at Warwick University. Ira recently quit her job to focus on freelancing as a language and language technology expert. And I am still trying to find meaning, aside from travelling a lot and trying to enjoy myself, in this new, post empty-nest stage of my life. We were also all on journeys of love. Ira and I celebrated our first anniversary at the beginning of September. Each of my sons was in a relationship with impressive young women.

And, as I drove along the long and winding road to Odda, I could not help but to think of the comparisons between life journeys and travel journeys. We had a goal: arriving in Odda. But the road to Odda was beautiful, new to us and ever changing. Likewise, while goals are important, it is nicer when the journey to that goal is beautiful. We could have flown and reached our goal sooner, but we'd have been spiritually poorer for it.

 

My sons on Trolltunga (troll's tongue)
My sons on Trolltunga (the troll's tongue). I get vertigo just looking at this picture.

 

Hardangerfjord Hiking

In planning the trip, we decided to focus on the Hardangerfjord area, which is rich in varied hiking paths, the most famous of which is Trolltunga (Norwegian for "troll's tongue") a 20 km (12 mile) hike across mountain tops to the troll's tongue, a big outcropping that does indeed look like an extended tongue. Although the hike has a goal of sorts -- getting to the Troll's Tongue where most people (like my sons in the picture above) have themselves photographed -- the journey to the tongue is just as beautiful as the goal. It is a rocky climb up, down and along a well marked path. It is also potentially a dangerous hike for the unprepared. Falling off the tongue, is not much of a threat. Falling on the rocks and breaking a leg, or dehydration on a sunny day are threats. In short, you need to be prepared and know what you are doing. It is a strenuous hike that requires hiking experience, hiking shoes, plenty of water and calories to keep you going. It is also critical to stick to the path.

 

Lake Bondhusvatnet

Not all of our hikes were dangerous or strenuous. Indeed, we tried to balance out our trip by mixing long, strenuous walks and shorter, easier walks. Lake Bondhusvatnet was an example of the latter. The trail took us through the woods and along a small river to the lake. Optionally, we could continue to the edge of a glacier, which we did. The walk was easy, picturesque and had no real goal. Instead, the walk was about the journey. It is important in life as well to follow paths that do not lead to a particular goal but which enrich us instead. Holiday travel is an excellent example. Our trip to Norway had no real goal beyond enjoying ourselves and spending time together as a patchwork family. If we had been unable to take the trip, we'd all still continue on our paths of life unhindered by the lack of experience. Nevertheless, we were enriched by the journey itself.

 

Somewhere on a Norwegian mountain.

 

Oops

On another day, Ira found a trail on Komoot (a GPX app for hiking, walking and that kind of thing) that started a scant few hundred meters (yards) from our apartment. We decided to follow it, but we didn't quite succeed, at least at first. The thing with GPX apps, especially on mountainous terrain, is that they can be a bit inaccurate at times. Sometimes, the app may say you are a few meters off trail when, in fact, you are on the trail. You know this because there is a trail under your feet and no trail a few meters away.

This happened to us, except that we noticed that the app claimed we were getting further and further from the route. We were on a trail. No doubt about it. But, it had become apparent we were on the wrong trail. This was confirmed when our trail petered out, leaving us two choices. Either we could backtrack to the point on which we diverged from the correct path or we could make our way across the mountainside until we came to the trail Komoot wanted us to follow. Backtracking would take time and be an admission of defeat. Cutting across the mountainside would be more direct and a challenge. So, of course, we opted for the latter. Although the correct path was just hundred or so meters from us, it was indeed a challenge to squeeze past tree branches, push through shrubs, climb over rocks, keep steady footing and not fall.

We managed! The correct trail proved to be a relatively straight path. However, from time to time, we came to intersections where several paths diverged. Using the app, it wasn't always immediately obvious which path we had to follow. When this happened, we choose a likely path and walked along it for a bit to see if Komoot agreed with our choice. If not, we returned to the intersection and tried another path.

The paths of life are like this too, only more so. We often come to messy intersections where there are numerous paths you can choose from. Sometimes the path is clear and well marked. Often, it is not. When this happens, the best thing to do is to explore your options by following a likely path. If it does not work, try another path. The alternative is to stay stuck at the intersection, unsure of what to do or unwilling to take a chance on a path that may prove to be the wrong path.

If you should follow a path in life for some time, only to realise it is the wrong path, then the best option is often to do what we did when we found ourselves on the wrong trail. Try to find your way to the correct path. It probably won't be obvious and there will be obstacles along the way. But, when you finally find the path that takes you to your goal, you will be happier than if you followed the wrong path.

 

Waterfalls

 

Waterfalls

Not all of our exploration of the Hardangerfjord region involved following trails. The day after the Trolltunga hike, we decided to take it easy and visited nearby waterfalls of which there are many. Indeed, it is surprising there is any water left on the mountains. We walked partway up Låtefossen waterfall. Other waterfalls we simply admired from the car park.

On our final day in Norway, we followed a vague path along the Opo river (that runs through Odda where we stayed) and then into the mountainside and back to our apartment. Several times we temporarily lost our way or were unable to find the path. But, somehow, we eventually found a path going in the right direction and continued.

 

The Various Paths of Life

Some people seem capable of setting solid goals and using a sort of internal GPS to find and follow their paths in life. My eldest son is like this. He knew he wanted to study sciences from a young age. Once he got into academia, he knew this was his path. And he has methodologically worked out the path he needs to take to get there. When I was his age, I had little idea of where I wanted to go. I only knew that I wanted to continue living in different countries. So, I did a course and got certified in teaching English as a foreign language, which set me on a vague, poorly defined path. I was kind of like a guy just following random paths in the forest, clutching a poorly marked map in my hands.

Somehow, it all worked for me, though I occasionally wonder how my life might have differed had I followed other, better defined paths in my life. But I have no regrets, especially when I look at my sons. Then I realise that, had I taken any other path in life, I would not have fathered these two remarkable boys. I cannot imagine that.

There is no right way or wrong way to follow the various paths that life offers. The important thing is that you find and follow paths. The alternative is to stay still. Short periods of stillness and reflection are great. Too much staying still can get boring.

I would also argue that you should treat the paths of life like the paths of Norway. Don't just focus on your goal. Enjoy the scenery along the way and be prepared.

 

 

 

Starting out on the Trolltunga hike.
At the start of the Trolltunga hike.

 

 

 

 

Ira of the mountains!
Ira of the mountains.

 

 

 

 

Reflecting mountain.
Reflecting mountain.

 

 

 

 

Lake in the mountains.
Lake in the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

My sons.
My sons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Odda
Odda

 

 

 

 

 

Ira meditating by the waterfall.
Ira meditating by the waterfall.

 

 

 

 

Small lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountains, mountains everywhere.
Mountains, mountains everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

Stone slabs.

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff cradling small cloud.
Cliff cradling small cloud.

 

 

 

 

Desolate mountain top.
Desolate mountain top.

 

 

 

 

Ira on the rocks.
Ira on the rocks.

 

 

 

 

Picnic table with a view.
Picnic table with a view.

 

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