We are not all travelers, or writers or photographers. But I find we all love stories of places and the people who make them different, alluring, exotic. Out of the ordinary and apart from the everyday, travel stories give us perspective of a greater world out there. And sometimes when we travel we experience a familiarity that cannot be explained. We feel a tug. Akin to a recognition. Have we been here in a dream? In a memory of a past life? Or is it the pull of an ancestor. A namesake. Are certain places simply the “ideal” of our imaginings? Stavenger, Norway. Gateway to the iconic Norwegian fjords, is one of those places for me. Growing up, my mother spoke of Norway with a particular longing. Her own father was part Norwegian and mom longed to visit the country that contributed to her heritage. She never did, but here I was. On a cruise and ready to explore a place not of my dreams, but of my mom’s. What would I discover? Would it call to me in some primal way? Always open to new discoveries, I awaited this stop with overflowing curiosity.
As we docked, my mind was heavy with thoughts of my mom. Her father’s family hailed from Norway, but she knew little about him. He died at an early age so there was no handing down of traditions, culture and stories. I wonder would she have felt a natural affinity to this land were she here? And then I wonder, will I experience any connectedness? A feeling of roots unexplored? Will it beckon me through its past, its present, its people? I scan the Norwegian shores from the deck. It’s colder than I am used to, having acclimated to the Southern USA many years ago. I regret not owning a warm scarf, gloves, a hat. But my attention is pulled away from my discomfort as I spot bright, clean rectangles of yellow, red, gray, blue or green. Homes trimmed neatly in crisp, bright white, boat houses at the shore. And boats. Marinas are packed tight with sailing vessels. There are nearly 50,000 islands off its undulating coastline and ferries ply the waters with workers as well as school children. The air is fresh, clean and cold. So far, really good. Other than feeling sharply the cold I am not used to, I like what I see.
Along the channel on both sides of the ship rolling hills are dotted with farms and red roofed barns. It could be anywhere in the Ohio River Valley were it not for the waterfront lined with incredibly colorful container ships. I marveled at the pristine white-topped oranges, bright blues, reds and saturated yellows of these commercial globetrotters of the sea. As we moved between blue skies and bluer seas toward our port, the character of the land stayed constant. Clean. Open. Dotted with trees and swathed in green. No where did I see homes and buildings choking for lack of air and space. There seemed to be an abundance of land for every bit of human encroachment. Our guide later explained that Norway is about 33% forested. About two-thirds of Norway is mountainous.
We stop for waffles and coffee. The waffles are delightful; the coffee is great. So is the tea, someone remarks. Surrounded by verdant greens and fresh, clean air, we relax, chat. Take pictures.
Having boarded again we proceed deeper into the fjord. Cliffs rise higher and rougher, splatters of bright spring green clinging to the stone. We begin to see ribbons of waterfalls. Our captain pulls close to one and the crew fills a stainless bucket so that we may taste cold, clear Norwegian mountain water. It is a hit.
Returning to the port, our guide extends a charming invitation. School is adjourning and this boat will pick the children up and deliver them to their homes. We are welcome to stay aboard should time allow. A large commuter ferry passes. It strikes me how truly bound to the water, the sea, are the Norwegians. Island hoppers. And there, finally, I recognize my own connection: the waterways, the sea, the boats, the life lived close to nature. I, too, am a coastal girl.