Every trip has a moment.
It's hard to explain. I'm never aware that I've been waiting for the moment until it happens. Maybe it's not so much a moment as it is a scene, or an experience.
Whatever it is, it stills me. It makes me pause to mull over that moment in time.
My Ireland moment happened when I was laughing hysterically with a best friend as she hung laundry to dry outside the window of a 600-year-old castle. Despite the hilarity of the moment, it made me pause to appreciate sharing such a trip with one of my dearest friends.
Ironically, these moments never have grand, breathtaking settings—they're intimate.
My Norway moment didn't happen driving between snow-capped fjords or sitting atop a mountain, looking down on what looked like Valhalla made golden by sun rays breaking through rain clouds.
The moment happened in a tiny café tucked between rows of homes in Bergen. The café was dim and warm, with twinkle lights strung in the big window. It was full, but not crowded. People chattered, but it wasn't noisy.
It was my moment to sit back and savor a week of experiences with the man I love.
The week began on what I would have found to be a dismal evening in the Midwest, but Alex (my boyfriend), Max (his friend), Grace (Max's girlfriend), and I had just landed in Norway—so the snow falling in the grey dusk had a sort of magic to it.
Our first night in Oslo, Alex's Norwegian friend, Thomas, took us out and I discovered the delightful flavor of juleøl (a Christmas beer) at a moody hipster bar and a smoky (pleasant campfire smoky) underground brewery. I finally pronounced the beer properly ("yule-ol", not "ju-lee-ol") on my last night in the country.
We spent the next few days in Oslo wandering unhurriedly around the city. Drinking tiramisu coffees and nisse lattes at Starbucks' Norwegian cousin. Sauntering through the Norwegian Folk Museum and between the wealthy homes that surrounded it. Risking slips for views atop the snow-laden opera house.
One night, we walked around (gløgg in hand) a delightful little Christmas market and enjoyed the lights that decked the city square.
A Norwegian Thanksgiving
If I can't be home for Thanksgiving, spending it drinking wine over Norwegian stew and conversations with new friends isn't a bad second.
Definitely one of the most diverse Thanksgivings I've ever had, Thomas happened to invite us and his and Alex's friend, Magnus, over to his place on Thanksgiving for a "poor man's" winter stew: creamy with lots of root vegetables and served with thin toast and butter.
On the road
The road trip from Oslo to Bergen started off beautifully—driving between mountains dipping into freezing rivers.
But once we got about halfway to Bergen, our nice weather turned into a blizzard, resulting in a closed road on the suggested route. A 45-minute detour and several gas station sandwiches later, we came to another closed road, but only had to wait a short while for a lead vehicle to take the waiting caravan of cars along the windy, treacherous route.
On the drive back from Bergen, we got crystal clear weather, so we were able to see everything the snow and darkness blocked from our view on the trip there. A good portion of the route was located above the tree line, so the landscape looked like a desolate winter wasteland—like something out of Star Wars.
With nothing to block the blowing snow, I understood why it took us four hours longer than normal to get to Bergen.
We didn't spend enough time in either city to really get a fair impression, but at first visit, I preferred Bergen over Oslo. I think the coastal city was more charming (albeit more touristy, too) than the country's capital.
We spent our days in Bergen similar to how we spent them in Oslo: Wandering through the city, stopping at charismatic coffee shops, architecture of a time long gone, stands with reindeer sausage topped with lingonberry jam and fried onions, the most beautiful fish market I've ever seen, and boutiques with cashiers who educated us on Norwegian folklore.*
*Our cashier was (jokingly) adamant that a nisse wasn't a gnome, elf or Santa. It's a little sprite who helps with chores around the farm. Norwegian families thank him by putting a bowl of porridge out for him on Christmas Eve.
As much as I enjoyed everything in Bergen, what won me over were the views of it from the top of Mount Fløyen.
You can't sit with the clouds over a view like this and not think about things, deep things. But as deep as those thoughts were, they weren't as meaningful as the ones I had in the cozy, glowing café just down the mountain.