Fitjar, Norway


Going to Stord today to meet up with the family. The trip there is covered by a power boat which is essentially the equivalent to a 737 in the water. The day started out really dreary so the boat ride was really less spectacular then it could have been. The boat ride was quick & Jo took her medicine which made her sleep. We arrived in Fitjar (us and one other guy). Standing in the cold dreary morning were a gaggle of people to meet us. Hovlands and not quite Hovlands to snatch us up and show us around the Island. I don't know all the names but for sure there was Nils Magne, Harold and his wife Turid. Since we have to get items for Wendy's bunad we immediately hike to the Bunad Store in town because it is Saturday and they will close early. They have the belt to match the vest she bought when she was here last. It cost 1000NOK. It wipes us out of cash. Turid gives the lady at the store a very sour expression. I imagine we did not get the best deal. But they are the only game in town and quite frankly I would have paid more.

We go to the minibank to refuel our wallets and walk over to Nils & Brigitta (spelling?). The walk is only a couple of steps, in fact I am sure Nils & Brigitta watched us walk around Fitjar from their house they live so close. We are going to eat lunch here and visit. We greet some more family and sit down to look at some pictures of common family. Too bad we didn't bring a few ourselves. At least some pics of Wendy's wedding. Oh well, it woudln't have fit in the suitcase. Lunch is Bitte Sup, loosely translated as soup of little bits. Some of those little pieces are meat, which proves interesting for us vegetarians. But we navigate around the meat and get to the veggies, it was wonderful to eat. Very hearty. We ate our lunch and then visited for a time more. We relayed all the info we had about all the CA Hovlands. I should have brought a crib sheet because I had no info on Stewart's family which these Hovlands were more familiar with since Stewart has brought them all over and he has visited numerous times. They even asked about Amo, who I had a little news on but haven't seen for four years. Nils is such a happy fellow. He smiled the whole time and was absolutely enthralled with whatever we had to say. Joanna and Turid bonded.

Nils Magne had to leave to get his teeth worked on. This event prompted our departure from Nils an Brigitta's. We were left in the care of Harold and Turid. They are going to take us to the Hovland farm since it has been Harold's family that has worked it in the recent past. We walk out of Nils & Brigitta's over to the local church and then to memorial to a Viking King. We hop in Harold's car and drive out to Hovland. It is not far, maybe 7 or 8 miles out of town. On our drive out Harold talks about how Dad and Wendy came to visit him in the hospital and how grateful he was that they bothered on their vacation. Have to remember to tell them when I get back. The road we travel to Hovland is one built after WWII and it actually splits the original farm. It turns out that Stord had a German fort of some sort because of it's strategic placement in the mouth of a large fjord. He was a child at the time and doesn't remember it all that well. He is fits into the same generation as Dad and has kids around our age or as little younger. He speaks very good english because he spent a lot of time in the US learning missle operation in the Norwegian Air Force as a part of Nato. Most of the Norwegians around his age have trouble with english but not him, his is perfect, almost accentless.

Harold's nephew now runs the farm. It is passed from generation to generation through the oldest son of the family. My great-grandfather Jens was the youngest of his family which would explain why he skipped town, no farm. Anyhow, the guy who has the farm now does it as a labor of love. He has another job to make ends meet. It is no where near large enough to make a living off of but it is big enough to do something with. This guy is the custodian of the farm (I would say his name but I have since forgotten it, sorry). He is an interesting character. He comes up to us sporting an Isreal Army cap. He got it on a recent trip to Isreal and is real proud of it. It is definitely unique in those parts. He shows us all around and is very proud of the place. It is quite beautiful. We meet his daughter and her new baby. She shocks me by speaking english with a Maryland accent. Turns out she was an Opair in Baltimore for enough years to speak it like a native. Either that or she is very good with languages. She is nice to talk to.

The farm is not all that big but still large enough to talk about. It sits on a slope of one large hill and dips in between another small hill into a back valley. There are a couple of houses and a barn. The barn has a modern covering of aluminum or some such but the frame is several centuries old. The timber frames are at least a ft. in diameter and are very hard. They are all fitted together without nails. Only wooden pegs and their own friction. Even so the frame has obviously survived several winters and will last several more. The roof was recently redone but prior to that the roof was made of stone drug up from the nearby sea. They are extremely heavy and must have taken forever to get them up to the barn. They only have one small hole which would affix it with a peg to the roof. We ask the owner for a rock for both Joanna and Kate's nativities. He let us have any rock we wanted and then started giving us all sorts of stuff. He gave me some great wooden stakes. As well as a hand hammered nail. I packed the stuff away and felt that I was well equipped as Erik the Vampire Slayer, were-cows look out!

After this we were taken to the 'basement' of the barn to see the new pony. They keep Shetland horses and one of them was born that morning. It was beautiful. It looked frail and tired but it was standing already. I took a picture which later came out to look like a dark blob. Bummer. This put us right on the old horse trail to the sea. It is a switchback trail which is barely noticable because of it's lack of use today. It is ancient and was the way the horse would be brought from the boats to the farm to drop off whatever at either place. Harold mentions how the horse always knew where to stop to rest, the same spot every time. It would stop regardless of whether it was carrying a load or not and would start only when it was finished resting.

We then hiked it over to the other side of the farm where they keep Highland cows. Shaggy cows that handle the cold very easily. The whole place really reminds me of Maine and Del's house. All the grass is very green, it is in a remote location and the hills roll like an east coast hill. All I needed was the big cement 'Hogan' sign in the front. Regardless I could feel the heritage all around me. It was thick with a feeling of reminiscence. Every piece felt familiar and close. It was magical to stand there and talk to people I have never met and feel like I was at home.

We said our goodbyes and thanks for the tour and rocks. Then we piled back into the car and motor around the hill to Harold's brother's. He lives in Bergen full time but summers there next to Hovland. The house is lovely and full of all sorts on hand crafted things made by this guy (once again the name escapes me). We go more because Harold never gets out to see them to visit so he makes a point since he is already out there. They chat in norwegian because they don't speak english. Harold's brother gives me this great pic of Hovland taken from the air. I say 'Tak'. I might as well thank him in his own language. I am touched by the gift, I hope he has the negative.

Back in the car and a stop at Harold and Turid's. They don't live far out of Fitjar, maybe half way between Fitjar and Hovland. Harold leaves us to go get his daughter from work. Before he leaves though, he shows me some great pics of the summer house he recently built on another island. Quite an accomplishment. All the materials had to be brought in by boat. They built the whole thing in one summer. Talk about a power build. We start talking about geneology and they start whipping out these cool books that seem to catalogue all of people of Stord. We look up the section on my great grandfather. Turid photocopied the pages for me to keep it has little info about Jens because he came to the U.S. Jens' father was Stein Bergeson. Jens was the youngest of six children. He was the only one of them that came to the U.S. Little bit of juicy rumor at the end. Turns out that Stein had a child out of wedlock with a woman named Brita Kristoffersdtr. Then the child was strangled by the mother, gruesome.

After Harold left we chatted with Turid. She is part swedish from the eastern part of Norway. She lets us know that she is teased about it often by Harold and her kids. She mentions how the lefse on Stord is done differently then where she comes from and how she had to get a special rolling pin just to do it the way Harold was used to. She brings it out and it has this square pattern on it that gives this texture to the lefse when it is rolled.

Nils Magne arrives from his dentist appointment to wisk us off to his house and we say our goodbyes to Turid. There we will meet Gunnar. I remember Dad talking about him like he was Dad's psychic soul brother. Nils' house is down this beautiful road in this remote part of Stord not far from Hovland. It is right on this cove and it is a beautiful place indeed. There we meet Anita, Mari, Hilde and Morten. Morten is shy at first and is going at half speed but he is pretty wound up and I think he is testing Nils a little bit. Once he gets comfortable he really starts going, quite a handful. He makes Mari and Hilde look comparatively very calm.

It is about coffee time when we get there so they have a full spread waiting for us. We sit down to lefse, waffles, coffe and this awesome sour cream pudding. They have this sugary spread they put on the lefse which is almost like honey but which turns out to be sugar by product. If I see some in the U.S. I will definitely get some. Everything tastes great and we eat with relish. The sour cream thingy is especially good, so light. It is very sweet and has this topping of nuts, raisins and such. I asked if it was rumagrad and was assured that it was not, rumagrad is supposedly much heavier and richer. We chatted and ate while the kids looked on. Anita didn't say a word of english while we talked but I could tell she understood everything. The kids understood most of it too and spoke just a little. Hilde is learning sign language in school, one of the kids in her class is deaf. Jo took the oppurtunity to spell Hilde's name in sign to try to connect. Hilde was too shy though. Very cute kids. While we chatted some of the original people showed up again like Nils and Brigitta.

Gunnar is a kick to talk to. He is little older then Nils Magne. His kids are all teenagers, we met most of them later in the day. He obviously has some opinions on life that are not shared by his more traditional relatives. They winced a couple times when he starts to respond to questions about his opinions on Norway that Jo keeps asking. He must have been restraining himself because the rest of the gang seemed happily surprised by his responses. Gunnar is a real airplane nut. He has a pilots license. I guess if the weather had been better we would have gotten to fly over Stord, too bad. Along with this all he sells a model airplane engine he designed. So he is deeply into the hobby of planes. Nils and he work at the same place, Nils as a controller and Gunnar as an engineer.

After we chatted a bit longer some of us put on our coats and walk down to the cove near Nils' house. The place is totally private, you can't see Fitjar. It would seem that you were totally alone in this place. There is a boathouse there for their boat and a little ramp to get into the ocean. There are other boathouses for their neighbors. I guess they go down pretty often, the walk only takes a minute or two. It is a very pretty place. Nils' big hobby is boating. He loves to talk about it and does a lot of boating excursions. This seems like the perfect place for him. He points out where he has sailed to in the near locality. Earlier he was telling us how his father worked on boats. He used to take Nils with him and tie him to a rope to the center of the boat so he couldn't get off and hurt himself. A touching story.

We all hike back up and decide to take a drive around the island before we have to go. Going around the island doesn't take long, maybe an hour and a half. Halfway through we stop at Gunnar's, meet his daughters and say hello to his son down the hallway (he was too busy playing a flight simulator I think). Gunnar's wife was working this day so we didn't see her. We then sit down to chat a little, hoping to see more of Gunnar's opinion. We weren't disappointed. He really let us know how he felt about German Occupation in WWII, how life is today in Norway and how he felt about the recent problems in Kosovo. Kosovo is a lot closer to Norway then we would like to imagine. Maybe 1000 miles. And since Norway is a NATO country they are definitely involved. We soon get back into our car and finish off the rest of the island. We went to the other town on the other side of the island and did a quick circuit. We were running a touch late so we did not linger there but straight on to the ferry we had to catch.

We get to the Ferry with about 5 minutes to spare so we made quick goodbyes with Nils. Thank him for being a great tour guide and tell him to thank everyone else for their hospitality to their relatives they had never met before. They were the best and made our day very special. I was deeply touched and am still very thankful. Earlier in the day Harold was telling us how Hov is a viking word for holy or sacred and how Hovland is a sacred land to the vikings. For me it was not holy but very sacred since it is the anchor of my family. A magical place with very kind people. Going there gives me great perspective on my ancestors living and dead. We don't look all that much like the people there but we do have some similar features, views, genetic traits. Both Nils and I are left handed, so was Jens. I am very grateful that I was able to go there and see those people. Something I will not forget.

The ferry ride was uneventful. They didn't charge us anything since we weren't driving a car. It took about 50 minutes and dropped us off at the bus back to Bergen. The bus was no regular bus. This is the 9pm bus on saturday night. Or as it should be called in big flourescent letters on the side the Bergen Party Bus! The first people in line to get on are these 8 girls. Some where in their mid 20s, dressed to the 9s and they are all hiding liquor in their coats. The bus driver pretends not to see this gross violation for some reason even though the girls were doing a poor job of hiding it. As soon as the bus gets going those girls start partying. They break out in song and start talking really loud. They sing this one song over and over again which is obviously a norwegian drinking song. As the bus continues to stop it continues to take on young passengers with alcohol ready to party on with these girls. The rest of the hour and fifteen minute bus ride is filled with singing, drinking and loud drunk chatter. We are pelted with drunken singing. Our noses were full of the musty smell of beer and cigarette smoke. The partying is even beginning to build up some wounded. There are beer bottles rolling around on the floor and the floor is starting to get covered in beer. As we pull into the first stop in Bergen a couple of women get off quickly, one of them tosses her cookies as soon as she steps off the bus. We got off at the first stop we consider worthwhile and listen as the bus continues it's journey to the hot spots of Bergen, leaving low tolerance drinkers in its wake. Truly a unique norwegian experience.

We got a quick bite to eat at the same Italian restuarant we ate at the first night in Bergen. We had a small salad each and hopped the late bus back to our B&B. A short night's sleep and then off the the airport early in the morning to go to Stockholm.