If this shoe could talk

If this shoe could talk...

What stories would it tell?  About it’s owner, the countries it’s treaded upon and the seas it’s sailed?

Just one of the many reasons I love exploring the rocky coastline of Magerøya…. my own private treasure hunt.

Bras, Berries and the Great Outdoors

When living, or visiting another country, it’s not uncommon to experience a little culture shock.  Like when I spent my first summer in Norway.  I was asked to house-sit for a pastor and his family.  Not knowing them very well,  I was a little nervous when I went to their home to receive my instructions.  I’ll never forget that hot, sunny day, when I knocked on the door and the pastor’s wife answered the door in a black bra and a cut-off denims.

“Hi,” I said and tried not to stare at her satin brassiere, wondering why in the world she hadn’t put on a t-shirt before opening the door.  She greeted me with a warm smile and started giving me a tour of the house.  Thankfully, she’d also written instructions, because the only thing in my head was, “She’s only wearing a bra…. is it a bikini?…. no, it’s a bra… are all her clothes in the laundry?… she’s the pastor’s wife…that’s a bra, alright.”

As she finished the tour out in the garden, I pondered what the neighbors’ must think about the pastor’s wife running around in her bra.  But no worries there.   A couple of days later, I visited the full-busted, elderly woman who lived next door.  She was dressed in a skirt and a you-know-what.   After seeing women doing yard-work, riding on the ferry, hiking in the mountains and riding bikes, all in plain-jane, old white bras, I accepted this as a cultural difference, but often wondered what was wrong with bikinis, tankinis, or at least a sports bra.  And of course, I swore I would never do the same.

Early this week, on an beautiful Fall day, Onar and I went on a hike.

Onar fishing in Gjesvær

In Norway, when we go hiking, we usually have clothes for all types of weather:  One to two layers of wool, a good rain/wind jacket, hats, gloves, and possibly rain pants – because “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor/bad clothing.”  AND the weather can change very quickly.

While Onar was fishing, I picked beautiful, sweet blueberries:

Blueberries (blåbær)

And dressed in my wool, sweating profusely, I decided that “When in Norway, do as Norwegians do.”   Was I wearing a sassy satin bra that could maybe pass for a bikini if someone saw me from a distance?  Nope. Was I wearing a sports bra that would be logical on an outdoor expedition?  Nope.  I was wearing a dingy-white-should-have-been-thrown-away-years-ago-bra.  Oh yes, “Never say ‘never'”.  And guess what?  I’m a pastor’s wife.  Hmm.. ironic?

So now I know, like the pastor’s wife, her neighbor and countless other Norwegian women, a bra on a warm sunny day isn’t a bad idea.  But it’s definitely time to take a trip to Victoria’s Secret.

Three Ways to Say ‘Reindeer Poop’

“Guess what, Mommy?  I know how to say ‘reindeer poop’ in three languages,” my five-year old said, as we strolled down the street, passing a large pile of poo.

“Oh really.  Let me hear it,”  I said, wondering what third language she’d recently picked up.

“‘Reindeer poop‘ in English, ‘Reinsdyr bæsj’ in Norwegian, and ‘Rein skit‘ in Finnmarking (the local dialect).”

“Wow, that’s pretty amazing,” I said as she smiled proudly and continued dodging the poop/bæsj/skit scattered on the sidewalk.

Several thousand reindeer, owned by Sami reindeer herders, have summer pasture on the island we live on:  Magerøya.  They arrive in the Spring and leave in the Fall and by the middle of the Summer they’ve reached Honningsvåg.  I’ve seen them hanging out in the grocery store parking lot, heard the clip-clop of their hooves outside our bedroom window, and caught them munching on my neighbor’s perennials.

Reindeer munching in the neighbor's yard

Quick confession:  I didn’t yell at them to get out of our neighbor’s yard until after I took the photo.   I couldn’t help it, I’m absolutely fascinated with these animals.

I understand why people get annoyed with these hungry beasts that eat every plant in sight.  And one can not forget the fact that what goes in, must come out.  Whatever you choose to call it, poop/bæsj/skit, it’s never fun to step i a huge pile of it.

However, I’m a BIG fan of these animals.  Maybe it all goes back to Rudolph and his remarkable nose.  In fact, here are some amazing facts I’ve found out about reindeer.

Reindeer antlers grow up to 1 inch a day
  • Their antlers are made of a special bone that grows faster than any other kind of bone – up to 1 inch a day in the summer!
  • Reindeer have hooves with four “toes” on each foot.  These toes spread out, creating a type of snowshoe to help them walk on snow and ice.
  • Reindeer are considered to be the only mammals that see ultraviolet light.  This helps them spot things that blend into the Arctic landscape, like fur and urine from predators.
  • One reindeer eats enough food each day to fill up two large garbage bags.
  • And they really do have remarkable noses, with extra-long nasal passages that warm up the cold arctic air before it enters their lungs.
Ok, I admit it, I’ve become a little obsessed with these roaming, munching, pooping arctic animals.  But I promise that if you visit between late Spring and early Fall, you’ll have the pleasure of observing these beautiful creatures.  And I bet you’ll probably take their picture before you yell at them to stop devouring the pretty flowers.  
Reindeer in North Cape, Norway

A trip to the top of Europe

If you stand on the edge of the Nordkapp (North Cape) Plateau and believe that you’re at the northernmost point of Europe, well, unfortunately your not.  Technically speaking, you’re exactly 1,457 meters or 4,780 feet or .905 miles short of your goal.  Turning your head slightly to the west, you’ll see where you really should be standing:  Knivskjellodden.

Knivskjellodden, the northernmost point of Europe

While nearly 300,000 tourists visit the Nordkapp Plateau each year, Knivskjellodden has a slightly smaller number.  As of 11:22 PM, last night, August 15, 2011, 961 people had travelled there this year.  If you want to add your name to that list, all you need is good hiking boots, bottled water and appropriate clothing.  Like the Norwegian saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad/poor clothing.”

The Knivskjellodden hiking trail is 9 km, 18 km round trip (5.6 miles/11.2), and is well worth the time it takes to get there.  Between May 14 and July 28, the midnight sun is shining in this part of the world, and in August one can see the sun set and rise on a night-time hike. Absolutely breathtaking!

The trail is very rocky.  Picture bumpy cobblestone streets, but with larger rocks, deeper crevices, on a decline one way and incline the other.  So, good boots are your feet’s best friend.  Basically you just follow the rock tower trail markers.

Knivskjellodden, Rock tower trail markers

Yesterday we had amazing warm weather and clear skies, making conditions ideal for seeing the sunset in front of us and the full moon behind us.

Sun setting on the way to Knivskjellodden
Full moon on hike to Knivskjellodden

When we came down to the sea, we had an impressive view of the 1,007 foot Nordkapp Cliff.

View of Nordkapp Plateau from Knivskjellodden

And then, of course, we had to take our pictures at the northernmost point of Europe as well as write our names in the visitor’s book, found in the little while box marked with a “T”.

Kniveskjellodden, northermost point of Europe
Sign the visitor's book

Some previous pilgrims had left bottles of wine and cognac, and although we were tempted to take a swig or two, we thought we’d do the hospitable thing and let visitors #962 & 963 do the honors.

Before we headed back home, we admired the colorful sky, the massive Nordkapp cliff, and the glowing full moon.  And now we can say that we’ve been to the top of Europe.

Between sunset and sunrise at Knivskjellodden
View of Nordkapp from Knivsjkellodden

Crossing Paths

On a typical summer day on the island of Magerøya, it’s a safe bet you’ll find tourists making their pilgrimage to the northernmost point of Europe:  Nordkapp (North Cape), Norway.  Massive cruise ships tower above Honningsåg’s docks and a train of busses waits to take passengers up to the Nordkapp plateau.  RV’s, cars and motorcycles wind up the steep road, passing determined cyclists and hikers, all on their way to the “edge of the world”.  In the course of a year, between 250,000 and 300,000 people will make this journey.

Since living in Honningsvåg, I’ve been inspired and intrigued by the methods people have chosen to get here, as well as their motivations.  This past Sunday I had the privilege of meeting two individuals as they were about to approach their final destination:  71° north of the Equator.  On August 7, 2011, our paths crossed, and along with twenty others, we walked the last steps together.

In the small fishing village of Skarsvåg, the church was celebrating its 50th anniversary.  The pews were full, and right before the service started, I heard a tall, young man ask in English if he could sit down.  After the service I approached him and was delighted by the story this beaming German had to tell.

His name was Heiko Koristka, from Leipzig, Germany.  A little over a week earlier, he’d been chatting with his friend about how they should celebrate their birthdays, which happened to fall on the same day in October.  The conversation led to a bet:  If Heiko could hitchhike from Leipzig to Nordkapp in seven days, then his friend would pay for the entire birthday party.  (It better be one heck of a celebration!)

So, Heiko filled up a backpack and put his thumb to good use, traveling from Germany to Sweden to the top of Norway in six and a half days.  While hitchhiking from Honningsvåg to Nordkapp, he was picked up by several local ladies who invited him to come to the Skarsvåg Church’s 50th anniversary before heading up to the plateau.  Not only did he stay for church, but he also attended the 2 ½ hour-long party following the service, enjoying an assortment of great cakes, coffee and live entertainment.

On the same day, there was also another guest at the church and the party.  He’d shared during the service why he’d come so far north…

Gunnstein Fretheim pilgrimage was rooted in a deep love for his 34-year old nephew, Tom Frode Wallins, who was diagnosed with cancer on August 21, 2010.  Tom Frode decided ”instead of lying in his hospital bed feeling sick and sorry for himself, he’d do something positive.”  He started a campaign called, ”611 – Swing a Shot Against Cancer”.  His concept was to hit a golf ball all the way up to Nordkapp, and in the process, raise money for cancer patients and research.

On April 30, 2011, Tom Frode swung the first shot, sending the golf ball out of his room, number 611, at the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo.  Among those who have taken a swing, are politicians, theologians, athletes, and people who have been touched by the devastating effects of cancer.  Gunnstein has been the keeper of the ball as it has travelled northbound, lovingly carrying out the vision of his ailing nephew.  He’s been a spokesperson for cancer patients and for those who have lost love ones to the terrible disease.

Last Sunday, after the celebration at the church, a group of us, including Heiko, followed Gunnstein up to Nordkapp and had the privilege of hitting the golf ball towards it’s final destination.  In the original plan, Tom Frode would have been there to make the final shot, but unfortunately, his health had declined and he was in Denmark receiving alternative cancer treatment.

I think that all of us who had the honor of joining Gunnstein as he headed towards his goal, were deeply moved.  He bore the sorrow from watching a loved-one suffer and the hope that someday the fight against cancer will be won.  Gunnstein set the final golf ball below the Nordkapp Globe, looked out towards the horizon where the Norwegian Sea meets the Barents Sea, and swung his final shot, sending the ball soaring over the steep, 1,007 foot cliff.  A shot dedicated to all those who have lost the fight against cancer.

Gunnstein Fretheim hitting the final shot

In the past week I’ve thought many times about Heiko and Gunnstein.  Two men that reached their goal last Sunday:  Heiko, with his adventurous spirit and joyful smile, headed back to Germany to have one amazing party.  And Gunnstein, with a heart full of sorrow and hope, heading back home where the future is uncertain.  I’m grateful our paths crossed on the way to the “edge of the world”.

Heiko reaching his goal, Nordkapp