I’ve been in Norway a week now, though it seems longer—so much activity, so much beauty, so much information!
I came for a family reunion of the descendants of Johannes Olsen, my great-great-great grandfather. Not just me, but my brother Steve and sister Laura (and their spouses) as well as my niece Cortney came as well. Sadly, my husband Jerry had to cancel at the last minute because of a serious back problem. It broke both our hearts, as the second week was a planned kayak trip around one of the Lofoten islands. Sigh…
After a lonesome night at a Bodø B&B, I hit the road for Bø i Vesterålen, a 6 1-2 hour drive including a ferry ride. I got up at 5 AM to be sure I caught the ferry, then sat in the ferry line playing sudoku on my phone as I waited. Another sigh…
I found my way to the village of Bø (in the kommune of Bø), and turned in to Bøhallen, the community center. You can probably figure out the meaning. In spite of a light rain, the parking lot was packed with LOTS of people who look like me (and my uncles and aunts) grilling hot dogs and speaking Norwegian. I found my way to the registration table and picked up our t-shirts and a schedule.
Marit, one of the organizers, made a big fuss over me, hugging me like an old friend. She hunted around for her brother Øyvind, who had instigated and planned the whole event, and he welcomed me with a brilliant smile and another hug. It wasn’t long before Laura and Rob found me. Whew! English.
After milling the crowd a bit, they drove me to see their sweet little room in a boathouse B & B down the road. Then we found our way to the afternoon event, a fishing boat ride out to the island of Gaukværøya, which used to be a fishing village. We asked our captain (a fisherman named Tom, also a relative) to wait for our niece Cortney, who was minutes away. Since it was a small group, he agreed. Lucky Cortney. Lucky us.
Arne, a local historian, shared the history of Gaukværøya, settlement that began in the middle ages and lasted until the early fifties, when hundreds of residents had to dismantle their homes and move them to the mainland (also an island). Everything in Vesterålen is an island. Go figure. The entire area is an archipelago, I guess. The government wasn’t willing to run electricity or offer government services to such remote residents, so they offered them a payment in exchange for giving up their rights to return to their little island, which is now littered with foundations, both ancient and modern (stone and concrete).
Anyway, it was fascinating to learn about life on Gaukværøya. In addition to Arne’s descriptions, Tom’s father Arne shared stories about growing up there. Luckily, Ingor sat beside me and translated; most everything was in Norwegian. The island is rugged— all rocks and bumpy ground, so apparently the children had a heyday while their parents worked. They attended school on the island when it was convenient, because they often had to help with fishing and household responsibilities.
My brother’s family and I were hosted by my fourth cousin, Sonja Klaussen, and once we finally got home after dinner, we sat up until the wee hours talking. It was light all night, and it’s energizing. The whole time I was with family I was up until 2 AM. (At home I start yawning around 9:00.)
Saturday morning we woke to see four moose grazing in Sonja’s back yard. They’re smaller than our Minnesota moose, but delightful to watch nonetheless.
The day was filled with reunion events—an orientation, a coffee hour, a presentation on the lineage from our great-great-great grandfather, then photos outdoors.
They organized a group photo for the descendants of each of Johann’s twelve children, then we had a mass photo of all 300 relatives. Shocking. It was fun, though, to see who had descended from my great-great grandmother Johanna Sophie (1818-1889).
Too much information, I know.
The day ended with a catered buffet banquet and a dance at the community center. Pretty much the kind of music my grandparents liked dancing to, but we did our best. I needed the exercise.
On Sunday my sister Laura, Rob and I skipped out to go on a whale watching tour in Andenes, at the north end of Vesterålen. The drive was spectacular, and the event started with a museum tour that astonished and enlightened us. We learned how the whales use sonar, and that only male whales come up north. The ladies stay behind in the mid-Atlantic raising their young and waiting for the next round of mating.
Oh, I nearly lost my finger on the boat, too. After we got on we were standing along the side of the boat, and I had my hand over the edge. Little did I know there were huge plastic bumpers that meet the edge of the boat at low tide. ARAUGHHH!!! I screamed when I felt my fingers squeezed, then yelled for everyone to PUSH! People came to my rescue, and I was able to extricate a very smushed finger. By the end of the ride it had recovered.
The captain of the ship wears headphones to pick up the clicks of the whale’s sonar system, then he follows them until the whale surfaces for air. Amazing.
We got to see a whale surface twice. He’s a local resident sperm whale, and they call him Glenn. Imagine a boat with 60 people who’ve waited hours to see a whale, everyone with their cameras at the ready. “People at the railing bend down so everyone can see!” (in Norwegian, German and English) This old lady ended up sitting on the deck with my camera, snapping, snapping, snapping photos of Glenn as he spouted over and over and finally dove. So who got the best photos? My sister Laura, who pulled out her iPhone at the last minute and got spectacular shots of the flukes as Glenn headed down. Go figure!
We rented a stunning 3-bedroom airbnb on a peninsula between mini-fjords, just down the road from Bøhallen.
It was a joy to have time with my siblings to process the information about our ancestors. Our second cousin AnnBjorg invited us to her house for a reindeer feast on Monday, and it ended up being an eight-hour affair, including a delectable meal, a visit to my great-grandparents’ graves, and a long drive to Nyksund, a restored fishing village about an hour from AnnBjorg’s house.
We also learned that AnnBjorg’s house stands beside the one where my grandfather grew up. Who knew?
The next day Laura and Rob left, and Steve, Ann and I walked to the Bø historical and outdoor museum. Fascinating. It included a famous statue of a man holding a crystal that catches the light from the midnight sun and the northern lights.
After that we rented kayaks to paddle along the coast by our house.
That night we were treated to a brilliant sunset, and here in the land of the midnight sun, it lasted about three hours. What a show it was! Once again, I got to bed around 2 AM. Oh, well.
On Wednesday morning we parted ways after a walk to the end of the road. Steve and Ann were heading to Trømsø, and I was heading for Reine on Lofoten. My drive was supposed to take about 4 1-2 hours, but I’d decided that I would stop at some of the waysides to take photos. I did it a lot. So much that my drive took seven hours, especially since it was the first totally sunny day since I’d arrived.
I stayed in the Lofoten Bed and Breakfast, which wasn’t as nice as I’d expected—and it cost nearly as much as our beautiful rental in Bø. It was just a room with a few chairs and little hot pot. Luckily, there was a refrigerator outside my door to store all the food I’d purchased for my week alone.
It was a long, lonesome day. After I checked in I walked through the town of Reine, which is lovely but a bit too congested and commercialized for my tastes. They’ve stuck with the red boathouse theme, so it’s cute, but a little too busy.
I was thankful that the rest of my stay would be in Å, the town at the far end of Lofoten. More about that later.