Norway

So back in 2008, I did one of the most daring, spontaneous stunts of my life. I had never been out of the states before, and although always curious and hungry for world travel, never really had a reason to embark on a journey. That was until I met Pål.  One night, while out with my friends at an Orlando nightspot, somewhere between the blaring music and crowd of people, we found each other, and immediately hit it off. Talking all night, I discovered where he’s from, where’s he’s been, and what he’s doing here. He was a tall, lanky, messy haired Norwegian guy who was visiting some friends studying aviation here in Florida. Doing something usually out of my character, I gave him my number and offered to show him around Orlando the next few days he was here. What transpired over the next few days I can’t compare to any previous relationship I’ve had with a guy. We developed a quick, magnetic attraction and otherwise friendly camaraderie, I enjoyed hearing about his homeland and he enjoyed hearing about my family’s strange resemblance to the Godfather. As the next few days passed all too quickly, Pål’s visit came to a close. He had to return to Norway. But he didn’t want our newfound relationship to end; we exchanged numbers, Facebooks and Skype. For the next three months we made time to chat just about every day. I’d never seen anything like it.

The relationship Pål and I had, encompassed that whole summer romance thing. We met on a whim, hit it off instantly, both eager to learn more about each other, and then, one is pulled away from the other, due to the circumstance. But we didn’t let the distance come between us. Nearly every day we made time for each other, whether it was Skype, instant messaging or even a telephone call, but limited, due to pricey international calling rates.

One night while Skyping with him, Pål asked me if I had ever been outside the U.S. I said no, but I’d definitely like to see the world one day, to see cultures and people different from my own. He casually brought up visiting him. My heart dropped. I’ve always loved to travel, whether it’s local or far, always been curious to see what else is out there. Always had a thirst for adventure and discovery. It would be awesome to see where he was from, to learn more about his culture and way of life. I wasn’t in college at the time, so I figured, what do I have to lose? Let’s do it. So I started checking out flights to Stavanger, Norway, Pål’s town. A few days later, while Skyping, I told Pål I had found one for only $685 (stunningly cheap for an international flight). He said to book it immediately as it was dirt cheap. After reviewing the itinerary, and taking a few moments to recollect on what I was about to do, my shaky finger pushed the ‘book’ button. My Norwegian adventure began in mid- November of 2008. I was excited and nervous as all hell.

Stavanger airport

I left sunny Orlando around 1:30 and arrived in Newark, NJ by 4:00.  We weren’t set to jump the pond until 6:30 so I passed the time by shopping in the Duty Free store, picking up some wondrous Lancome Hypnose perfume, it’s a floral intoxication of the senses. After scarfing down some tasty fajitas at a in-airport Chili’s, it was time to hop on board. I’ve never had a fear of flying, I’ve flown plenty of times before, whether it was to Ohio to visit family and friends, California to visit my Aunt Karen, or various other places…but for some reason, I felt very uneasy boarding this plane. A sharp tinge of anxiety ran through me, my conscience saying, Camille do you know what you’re about to do? You’re flying across the freaking ocean! At night! By yourself! The thought of crossing the ocean at night did particularly scare me; I started getting flash images of the plane crashing down into a cold, helpless watery death scene, people swimming for their lives. The airline called for the final zone to board, I took my place in line, walked into the plane, and took a seat-calmly, bravely. I said to myself, You’re one courageous cookie, I don’t know too many women willing to board a plane at night, en route to Europe, alone. Go you.

I let out a sigh of relief, and scoped out the plane. It was an Airbus, which aviation-speaking, means, Big ass plane! It was the biggest plane I’d ever been on. There were four seats on the left side, five in the center, and another four on the right. Each seatback was equipped with a GPS of the flight route, so you could see at all times our location (I thought this was the coolest thing since sliced bread).

In-flight GPS

The flight attendants came around with coffee and tea, only they weren’t asking in English, but Danish. I thought that was über- cool. I truly was embarking on my first international flight; to start, the flight attendants were asking if I’d like coffee in another language. Awesome. After eating a hot meal and washing it down with some milk, I plugged the iPod into my ears and drifted off into dream land for a few hours. I slept on and off; partly due to my excitability that I was going to set foot on foreign soil in a few hours, and partly due to to the possibility of this plane crashing into the ocean was scaring my pants off. A few hours later, I saw the morning light, and realized we were descending into Copenhagen, Denmark, my one hour layover destination.

I called Pål when I stepped foot into Copenhagen airport. It was the most beautiful airport I’d ever seen. I looked down at the floor. Wait, is that hard wood? Wood floor in an airport? Sweet! I was there for only an hour then back up into the air. Crossing the Skagerrak Strait (Skagen Channel), a body of water that lies between Denmark and Norway, I studied the hundreds of wind turbines in the water, like some army of tall, white metal.

Nine hours later (really almost 24 with the time zone change) I set foot in Stavanger.  Pål’s dad, Geir Inge, picked me up and we were off…

I immediately started taking photos. I was still trying to digest that I was actually displaced in a foreign country.

Norwegian landscape

I was especially drawn to the rocky terrain and these majestic landforms called fjords. Tall and deep, with waterways winding through the middle of them. Cool stuff. The first thing Pål’s dad asked me was, what kind of food I ate. So we made a stop at the grocery store. The first thing I noticed was, how we parked far away, and walked to it. It was so cool to see people not fighting for the front parking space, people who, weren’t afraid to use these things we all have, called legs.

"Fresh Vegetables"- at a Norwegian grocery store

At the grocery store...

After we picked up some groceries, Pål’s dad and I headed home. Pål would be home soon from work. The anticipation was building. My reunion with Pål was an excited, energetic one.Lots of laughs, hugs and jumping around. I think the both of us couldn’t believe that I was actually here, in Stavanger. Later, I met Pål’s mom, Agnes. In the twelve days that followed, I got to know his parents on accelerated, friendly level. His parents were well traveled, having been to the States quite a lot, to New York, Miami, Orlando…and also to places in Europe. I could see where Pål got his taste for travel. His parents had a friendly, warm demeanor about them, always taking care to my comfort and happiness. But I’m pretty low-maintenance. I just need a warm bed to sleep in, some decent food, means of transportation and I’m a happy chick.

The following day I checked out downtown Stavanger, or, the City Centre, as the locals called it. I really admired how everyone parked and walked. There wasn’t a lot of driving here and driving there. Everything was within close proximity.

Walking the streets of Stavanger

Later that day, went in for some lunch…

Menu

Since Norway borders the North Sea, a large percentage of it’s food source comes from the sea. You’ll see this trend in most Scandinavian countries. There’s a large emphasis on seafood here, whether it’s prawns, various types of fish, clams, lobster or mussels.

This fish soup was AMAZING...

Prawns!

Smørbrød (open faced sandwich)

A few days later,  Pål’s aunt took me for a drive up into the Norwegian mountains and through some fjords. Even though some snow had begun to fall, I still found it quite beautiful.

This photo looks like a painting...

Mountainous landscape

Trying to stay warm for the photo...

Pål's aunt, cousin, and I

Pål didn’t think of the landscape as particularly beautiful, but then again, he grew up with mountains, fjords and valleys. I, coming from Florida, didn’t get to see this kind of terrain on a daily basis, so I was soaking it up, going photo-happy. During my visit, Pal and I often went to Stavanger Harbor, picturesque in nature with all its little colorful buildings all sandwiched in tightly, surrounding the water.

Stavanger Harbor

Some more shots of Stavanger…

Pål and I also checked out local mall, Kvadrat, it was similar to our shopping malls back home, only, I couldn’t really make out the storefronts. 😀 But hey, they had a McDonald’s! One sign of Western influence. No, I didn’t try the Norwegian McD’s.

Kvadrat

A few days later, Pål had to work, so his grandparents picked me up and took to the Rogaland Art museum. Being that I’m a lover of art, this was way cool. I was enamored by his family’s friendliness. I had never met his grandparents before and here they were, taking me for rides in their car, around Stavanger, sightseeing. I just thought that was fascinating. You don’t see that kind of friendly outreach back home.

Art museum

Art

Sculpture

I really liked the art museum. A lot of Edvard Munch’s works were on display, as he was a Norwegian native.

Next, I checked out the Stavanger Domkirke (Stavanger cathedral), nestled in the heart of Stavanger. I’ve always been intrigued by old, historical places, so naturally, wanted to pop my head in and check it out.

Stavanger Domkirke

Church nave...

The Stavanger Domkirke is the oldest cathedral in Norway (built circa 1125) that still retains its original appearance and is also still is use.

Baroque influence...

I admired all the intricate woodwork, painting and craftsmanship. A beautiful cathedral.

Aerial view of Stavanger Harbor

Closing in on my last few days abroad, Pål, me and his parents went to the City Centre and did a little shopping, eating, and coffee sipping. In the City Centre, it’s common for people to park, and walk. I really enjoyed how everyone walked to and fro. It wasn’t like America, where the majority of people are too lazy to even park far away and walk to the store. No one was afraid of a little physical exertion here. I loved it.

Me, Pål & his mom

We shopped around for a few hours, then, packed up and went home. I had to gather my things and get ready to return to the states (regretfully). Maybe it was that this place was strikingly beautiful. Maybe it was the demeanor of the people; so warm, friendly, helpful. Not afraid to go out on a whim for you. Maybe it was the majestic landscape. I just didn’t want to leave; not yet. But that ominous cloud of responsibilities and obligations hovered over my head, calling to me, reminding me, that I had to get back to reality, back to life, back to the every day grind…

The final depart from Pål and his family was a teary-eyed one. Early in the morning, hugs and tears were exchanged. His parents said they thoroughly enjoyed my company over the past 13 days and enjoyed getting to know me. Pål’s aunt was also there, everyone was so emotional over me leaving. I couldn’t help but think, how did I make such an impact on these people in another country, who I merely met 13 days ago? I thought about my own parents and how they would react to Pål leaving, if it had been the other way around. Would they have cried too? Pål’s parents definitely were not afraid to show some raw emotion, and I found that refreshing. It seems many people bottle their emotions, for whatever reason- pride, embarrassment, sign of weakness. But here, it was openly accepted, it was a part of life, a part of being human. I loved that.

The drive to the airport was a bumpy ride; both on the pavement and emotionally. Neither I or Pål had a dry eye the whole 20 minutes in the car. We held hands the whole way, wiped away each other’s tears as we neared closer to Stavanger airport. Pål looked at my departure as a kind of, finality, as if, I would never be back again. I told him not to worry, it wasn’t the end of us, or the relationship that had blossomed between us. I told him that the world had no borders, it was open to us. But Pål didn’t see it like that, he was hung up on the distance. But I, for some reason, didn’t see the distance as an obstacle. I had experienced more chemistry with Pål than any other guy I had dated on home turf. It was unmatched.

After about 10 minutes of resting forehead to forehead and tears rolling down each other’s faces, I had to go through security. I turned around and took one last look at Pål, his face red with sadness…this definitely went down in my book as one of the hardest goodbyes I’d ever experienced. Walking away from him was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do in my life. I boarded the plane, slumped down in my seat, and as we took off, the tears… so many, uncontrollable…streaming down my face.

Almost twenty hours later, due to the time change, I was back in humid Florida, feeling somewhat drunk (but was really sober) due to being awake damn near 24 hours. I called Pål, it was 6:00 in the morning there, told him I had landed safely and that I missed him already. My Norwegian adventure had come to a close.

Over the months that followed, Pål and I continued our long distance romance, with Skype calls, internet chat and sending packages from long and far, but eventually it all came to a halt. Pål flew to Florida to tell me that he couldn’t do it anymore. Although we were both brokenhearted, we both knew, it was for the best. We both needed that security, that loving touch, that camaraderie you get from the physical sense, something we both were at a lack of over the trans-Atlantic distance. So, we mutually ended the relationship, but still remain great friends to this day. I still talk to his parents. I still hold on to all the mementos given to me by him and his family, all contained within what I call, ‘The Norway Box’. And although some people might look at that as holding on to the past, I don’t see it that way. I see it as a small fraction of my life, but a necessary part, that helped me to grow and evolve as a person. It was a part of my life that, even after the final pass, looking back on the memories, can still bring a smile to my face and joy in my heart…

Pål & I- Stavanger Harbor 2008

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