Norway: December 28, 2007 -January 7, 2008

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period


So, these crazy Norwegians decided to celebrate this guy's 60th birthday by throwing a party.  No surprise there.  The Norwegians celebrate in a big way all of the milestone birthdays.  Starting with 50, we think, and then every decade thereafter.  But this crazy Norwegian had been to Austin, on business, and had attended a rock festival.  That gave him an idea.  Why not throw a rock concert for his birthday, and invite all of his friends, relatives, and associates to attend?  Gosh, that would total about 150 people.  But to keep it more interesting, the rock band should be youthful and play contemporary rock.  No wait.  There should be more than one band.  There should be three bands.  And there would be a dinner, with food and drink for all those guests supplied by the crazy Norwegian and prepared by him, his family, and many of his friends.  And there would be speeches after the dinner of course -- that always happens at Norwegian birthday parties.  But this way they could use the microphone on stage for the band.  And then around 10 pm the first band could start.  By 1 am the last band would be finished, and then he would say goodbye and thank you to his associates, and then he and his friends would clean up the venue and then at well after 2 am they could catch a taxi back to their various homes, since the crazy Norwegian and his friends would certainly have had a drink or two, and Norway has incredibly aggressive standards and absolutely totally draconian consequences for driving with virtually any alcohol in the blood.  And what if it had been snowing for two days, and so the coming and going to the party was through deep heavy wet snow that was still coming down?

Sounds crazy, right? 

So these crazy Americans received an invitation from Lars Helge and Tove Brunborg, and after much travail managed to cobble together connections that would get them there in time to visit a bit and help with the preparations, and then participate in the unusual, the daring, and yes, the crazy rock birthday concert.

If getting there is half the fun, then we must have had a hell of a good time.  We arose at 4 am on December 27 in order to be picked up by one of Jesse Jame's maxi-taxi drivers shortly after 5 am.  Our Delta flight out of Port of Spain, Trinidad, was delayed by about an hour, departing at about 9:30 am.  We arrived at JFK around 1 pm, and spent a sleepy afternoon at the airport, departing at 7 pm for London Gatwick.  We arrived at  7:30 am, got our checked luggage, and took the Gatwick Express train into Victoria Station, London, where we caught the underground "Tube" to Tottenham Hale, where we boarded the Stansted Express train.  Nearly four hours after our arrival in London we were in Stansted airport where we had a very sleepy wait for our 7:00 pm flight on Ryan Air to Torp, Norway, arriving at about 10 pm on Dec. 28.  Lars Helge was there to meet us.  Chuck sat in the front seat and chatted with him, in order to keep him (and himself) awake.  Barb snoozed in the back seat.  We arrived at their home in Soegne at about 2 am on Dec. 29.  Total time, from Trinidad marina to host's home in Soegne:  40 hours.

When Lars Helge and Tove later arose, they debated waiting for us before starting breakfast.  Good thing they didn't.  They finally knocked on the door at some time after 1 pm, and we got up and had lunch/breakfast with them. 

Mardon and Marie at their Soegne home

That evening, Dec. 29, we were all invited over to Mardon and Marie's for a traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner: pinnekjoet -- salted dried ribs of mutton cooked by steam, served with mashed rutabaga.  It was delicious, and we enjoyed visiting with them and the other guests too.  We first met Mardon and Marie a number of years ago, when we were touring Provence with Lars Helge and Tove.   They were also among the guests at Chuck's 60th birthday party in Norway, where Mardon surprised Chuck with a steamed sheep's head at the dinner.   They were also at the First Annual International Almond Festival in Spain, and we toured Granada with them.  We hope to see them sometime soon on Tusen Takk II in the Caribbean.

Someone said 'Skaal' -- that is Mardon on the right

After dinner coffee and sweets

Lars Helge chats with hostess Marie

Very common for Norwegian Christmas trees to be decorated with strings of small Norwegian flags

Marie is a teacher -- this guy was made at school

If the dough is too soft one gets an 'overweight' julenisse (Christmas elf)

Per and Ingunn at their Bortelid cabin

For the last several years, Lars Helga and Tove have been guests of Per and Ingunn at their cabin at Bortelid for New Years Eve.  They were invited again this year, and were going up on Dec. 30.  Just as we were in 2003. when in Norway to celebrate Chuck's 60th birthday, we were also invited to the cabin.  We left about noon, and the trip took us about 2 1/2 hours.  The pictures and their captions below tell most of the story of this delightful visit, but perhaps do not fully capture the warmth and good will we feel toward these people.

Per and Ingunn always have drinks ready for a welcoming -- Christmas beer and Jaegermeister in this instance

Host Per

Hostess Ingunn

Per and Ingunn's cabin -- taken in the morning after the sun cleared the mountain top

The cabin from the other side -- taken after the sun had gone down over the mountain ridge

Out for a short walk after we arrived on Dec. 30

Lots of new development here -- and note the grass roof

Promotional sign for the development -- all of the residences are "vacation homes" only and not intended for full-time living

It gets dark early in Norway -- especially in the mountains

We had rakfisk (provided by Lars Helge) for dinner on the 30th

We stretched New Years evening into three widely-spaced courses, and "rested" between them

Norwegians send text greetings to all of their friends on New Year's Eve

Congenial and relaxed

The main course

Someone said 'skaal' again!

The almond cake dessert

Watching the New Years Eve fireworks

Per lights a rocket

Earlier in the day we drove to a spot we hoped would stay sunny for a long walk

It certainly started out that way

That is a ski slope in the right background

Not enough snow for skiing, so we are afoot

After a long walk that eventually went through shade, we climbed a slope to get into the sun for a break ...

... where we set up a 'camp' and Per made a fire

While Lars Helge and Barb square themselves away ...

... Per gets the fire going

Everyone pauses to enjoy the sun ...

... and the scenery ...

... and the peace ...

... and then it is weiner-roasting time for the boys ...

... and the girls ...

... followed by seconds and thirds as the sun disappears behind the mountain ...

... as we prepre to break camp and start the long hike back

We eventually break back out into the sun, and discover another group of weiner-roasters: a tradition on Norwegian hikes through the snow

Those strange things on the rack will be attached to the ski lift line; each will hold a 'T' for pulling a skier up the hill

It gets cold when the sun disappears, but there is little wind ...

...and the walk is pleasant ...

... all the way back through a 'sunset' before 3 pm!


We have been to Soegne many times before, and are beginning to think of a certain room in the basement as "our" room.   Being a house guest there is nice and easy.   We have periods of chatting and visiting, broken by periods when everyone does their own thing:  reading or watching TV or solving Sudoku.   We were not the only "guests" in the house, since youngest son Geir, instead of going back after the Christmas holidays to Bergen where he is studying for a Ph.D., stayed on so as to be there for his father's birthday bash.  He would have done so in any case, but he had extra motivation this time:  his band, improbably named "Danish Space Ferries, was to be the lead-off band at the party.   They even had a warm-up gig on the night before the birthday celebration.  We were glad to have an extended opportunity to visit with him; he is a very bright and thoughtful young man -- and his English is probably better than ours.  On the eve of the party two additional couples squeezed into the house:  Tove's sister Randi and her huband Jarle, and Lars Helge's sister Marit and her husband Per.  They hail from far-away Bergen and Kongsberg, respectively, so we had never met them before.  Good to get the chance to get to know them.

Lazy days when we first arrived

Lars Helge found time to relax too

No snow when we arrived ...

...but there certainly was when we left!


While poor Tove and Lars Helge worked, we went into Kristiansand several times during the interval between New Years at Bortelid and the big birthday bash on Jan. 5.   Kristiansand's clean, efficient and heavily used bus system made getting back and forth between Soegne and Kristiansand a breeze.  On one of our trips we stopped at the downtown fish market, so that Tove could make us another Christmas dish that is popular in the Kristiansand area:  steamed cod.   Yes, it was yummy.

Kristiansand's 'gaa gata' -- pedestrian street

Vase sculpture down at the water front

Another sculpture in the park at the waterfront

We are buying cod at the waterfront fish market

The big ones were all sold at Christmas ...

... so we bought two smaller ones

Lots of interesting creatures stirring at the market


Rasmus and Kari

Rasmus and Kari also had us over for dinner -- on Friday, Jan. 4th.  We drove through the beginning of a snow storm to their home on the far side of Kristiansand.  There, we had a delicious dinner with a main course of a fish soup or stew in a spicy coconut sauce.  Rasmus excels in writing poems and songs suitable for entertainment at parties -- he and Chuck did a duet at the Almond Festival in 2006.  We have known these two since our second visit to Norway.  They are both retiring soon, and we will be sorely disappointed if they don't come see us in the Caribbean.

Hostess Kari as we enjoy her home-made plum dessert

Host Rasmus

We visit at the dinner table briefly after dessert, before retiring to the living room for coffee and tasty delicate cookies

Pre-Party Preparations

Of course, Lars Helge and Tove had been planning for months, but the more active preparations began in earnest on Thursday, as Tove and Chuck began taking off the skin and cutting out the bones from the gravoerret filets, and then cutting them into pieces suitable for serving.  The filets were from trout (oerret) seined from lakes near Lars Helge's beloved Skurvenuten cabin.  Grav fish is made by treating raw filets with dill, sugar, and salt for a time ranging between hours and days, depending upon who you ask and where in the world you are.  When these were ready last summer they were frozen and saved just for this January party.  Later, Chuck and Lars Helge began preparing another Norwegian fish specialty:  rakfisk.  This one takes a little more courage, and not so many Norwegians now know how to do it.  Lars Helge de-guts trout, washes them carefully, and then, with no other preparation, presses them in a strong brine solution in buckets, where they remain chilled but not frozen for months.  Chuck can tell you that the solution smells horribly rotten and spoiled when the fish are pulled out, but after deheading and rinsing for about an hour in fresh water, the flesh tastes very good indeed.  (But the house still stinks for hours!)  The rakfisk was also cut up into pieces, and these were placed onto quarters of dark bread slices.  Chopped leeks and pepper went onto the rakfisk and gravoerret, and later -- at the party venue just before the party began -- both got a dollop of an appropriate sauce.  Lars Helge's brother-in-law Jarle joined the work crew on Friday, cutting up the bread and helping to spread the quarter-slices onto trays for receiving the rakfisk pieces.  Tove's sister Randi then spread the pepper and chopped leeks.  Meanwhile Tove and Barb were at neighbor's home (Sigurd and Lisbeth), where they were all busy producing more goodies for the party.  They made lompe wraps (a smaller cousin of lefse -- cf. filled with cream cheese, chopped leeks, and pieces of smoked salmon.  Other friends at other locations were busy making sticks of Norwegian cheese and thinly sliced Spanish ham.  It began snowing on Friday, and snowed in earnest throughout the night and most of Saturday, the day of the party.  We delivered the food and the beer and the wine and the champagne during the storm on Saturday, and got stuck for a time in the parking lot of the party venue with the first load.

Terje would be toastmaster at the party, and he came over to discuss the assignment with Lars Helge

Tove began the preparations by working with the gravoerret

Here she removes a line of bones from a filet

Chuck prepared the gravoerret, and later the rakfisk. That is Geir, our hosts' youngest son, watching.

Another view of the operation

On Saturday morning it was time to do some serious shoveling in front of the garage.

The reflective stripe on Chuck's jacket caught the camera's flash

The scene as we took a load to the party venue on Saturday, party day.

The view on the road from Soegne to Kristiansand

The Big Party

Of the 150 invited guests, almost all accepted.  A few had important conflicts, like an injured spouse or a debilitating illness, or, at the last minute, problems with transportation through the two-day snow storm.  Still, there were about 130 people in attendance.   Was it indeed, crazy?   Well, maybe.   But it was fun, and we are certain that it was universally considered to be so.   But I am also sure we were not the only ones who had some misgivings, going into the event, about the nature of the music and the prospect of enduring three hours of loud, discordant, un-danceable noise.   We need not have worried.   We could and did dance, and the music, if not what we would choose for a quiet afternoon at some anchorage as we sipped wine and nibbled cheese, was nevertheless perfect for a party.   Lars Helge, known for his daring, unusual, and invariably interesting and fun social events, had pulled it off again.  With the help of his many friends.   At the risk of missing someone, I'll give credit to Terje, who was the toastmaster; Ingunn and Per, who prepared some of the cheese appetizers; Sigurd, who helped secure the beverages, he and his wife Lisbeth, who provided space and help with some of the lompe rolls; Kari who made focaccia; and Marie and Mika, who helped with the toppings for the fish dishes.  Of course, everyone in the Brunborg residence pitched in as well.  Providing food and drink for 130 is no small task.   But you know what?   The preparations were part of the fun.

The party was scheduled for 7 pm.   Norwegians are almost always right on time, but perhaps the storm delayed everyone a little.   It must have been 7:05 before the first guests were offered their welcoming glass of champagne.   (Chuck was part of the champagne pouring committee and Barb was part of the gift table committee.)   By 7:45, Mardon, the keeper of the guest count, signaled that all but a few of the expected guests had arrived, and so Lars Helge climbed to the platform to welcome everyone.   Then, we all attacked the delicious food.  Terje spoke next, explaining that when he rang his hand bell, that would signal that he was about to introduce someone.   That was not to be taken as a request to stop eating or to gather around, but to just be aware that someone was about to speak.   There were lots of speakers, but intervals for visiting in between.   We were scheduled to have the first band by 10 pm, but the speeches ran long, and it must have been 10:30 by the time the first band began.  The crowd was a little stiff at first, with Lars Helge and Tove making it a point to stand up a few feet from their table and a little closer to the bandstand.   Finally a daring couple danced.  No others.   A few more songs, and Chuck convinced Barb to dance.  No others.   A few more songs, and then a trickle of dancers.   And then a growing number.   And then a flood.   Did everyone dance?   Not by a long shot.   But did we all have fun?   Yes, we did.

The tables were decorated with almonds hanging from small branches -- a clever reference to Lars Helge's almond orchard in Spain

Marie placing sauces on the fish just prior to the party

Randi (Tove's sister) joins Marie in applying sauce topping to the fish dishes

One of the serving tables with cheese/ham sticks, gravoerret, rakfisk, lompe wraps, and potato salad

Gravoerret (gravtrout)


Rakfisk -- this time with a decorative whole rakfisk on the platter

Lompe wraps (small lefse with cream cheese, chopped leeks, and smoked salmon)

Sticks of Norwegian cheese and Spanish ham

Another style (from another friend/helper/preparer) of cheese sticks

Norwegian Christmas beer

Champagne for each guest on arrival

Brother-in-law Per, son Geir, and brother-in-law Jarle, all of Lars Helge, at the welcoming champagne stand (Chuck was also on the welcoming team)

View of a few of the diners -- shot from the balcony

Tove gave the first speech for Lars Helge

Bjoergulf gave the second speech about Lars Helge

Chuck gave the third speech

Harold and Rasmus gave theirs together

Many others also spoke -- one we knew is the former Mayor of Kristiansand

Enjoying the speeches

Band #1

Geir (Lars Helge and Tove's youngest) is a member of the first band

Half-way through the set, Geir traded places with the drummer...

...resulting in this configuration

The birthday boy got to dance w/ a lot of women!

Seen from the band stage

The guy can cut the rug!

Band #2

Lars Helge enjoying the band along with the former mayor of Kristiansand

Enjoying band #2

Kari, former mayor of Kristiansand, current mayor of Soegne, and Barb enjoying themselves

The ex-mayor's husband, the ex-mayor, and an unkown (to us)

Lars Helge and Tove cut the rug

Rasmus says he is having a good time

Tove's sister Randi and Randi's husband Jarle watch from the balcony

Band #2 give homage to band #3

Band #3. Yes, they look scurvey. But they could play!

Another pic of band #3

Band #3 bass player

She can sing; she can play, she can look in a trance

Lars Helge in the foreground; Tove and son Geir in the background

That's Tove and Geir again, and Lars Helge in the foreground

Lars Helge dancing with his wife!

Post-Party Wind-down and Departure

Tove and her sister Randi

... and Barbara too

Quiet breakfast on the (late) morning after the party

Lars Helge's sister Marit and husband Per

Randi and husband Jarle

Our small $200 (USA) hotel room near the Torp airport

Winter scene out the window of the hotel

Snow laden tree outside the hotel

London Stop Over

Our connections on the way home were even worse than on the way to Norway.   We had a 24 hour layover in London, and so we schlepped our luggage to the Victoria Station (where we checked them), had lunch, and then got on a tour bus.   Spent the afternoon until darkness on first one and then another (affiliated) bus.   Saw a great many London sights, often through trees or down alleys or at a pace that made decent photography impossible.   But it was interesting.   If only Chuck had not sat out in the drizzle on wet seats, and had not subsequently come down with a killer cold.   If only...

Barb on the double-decker tourist bus

The original -- the first -- Hard Rock Cafe. Created by Eric Clapton and friends

The building housing the Hard Rock Cafe

Princess Di's former home

No picture essay of London would be complete without a red bus

Chimneys (now mostly closed) from the days when every room had its own firepalce for heating

Another building with the obsolete chimneys

Lots of fine shopping in London

Right in the middle of exclusive shopping in downtown London is an Audi dealership!

Looking back along the street at Harrods

Lettering on each of the biminis

Just to prove we were really there...

The Eye -- a HUGE ferris wheel (called an observation wheel by the Brits) in the background

The USA embassy -- note stature of Ike in the front

One of the monuments that lured me into the cold that gave me the cold that incapacitated me for DAYS afterwards

Another g*d da**ed monument that wasn't worth it

See how happy I look? What you cannot see is that the seat is wet. Which seat, you ask? Both.

The tour lasted a long time. Another shot of the Eye.