OLDER GALS TREK TOO: Discovering my Norwegian Homeland – by guest trekker Patricia Stoltey

Once upon a time, when I was only 56, I followed a dream. I had wanted to visit Norway ever since I first met my mother’s Norwegian uncle, Peter Ringstveit, who emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Since I never met Peter’s brothers, including my grandfather Lars, Peter was my only link to the family’s Norwegian roots.

Oddly enough, Uncle Peter’s stories were rarely of Norway.

Uncle Peter told great stories, but oddly enough, his stories were rarely of Norway and his family. He focused on his life in Montana as a sheepherder on the 3,000-plus acres he had accumulated, his treks to move sheep into Yellowstone National Park for grazing and back to the plains when the seasons changed, and the harsh northern frontier of the early 1900s. When my adventurous mother was in high school in the mid-thirties, she and a friend took the train from northern Illinois to visit Uncle Pete. While he slept at a neighboring ranch, those two girls camped in the sheepherder’s wagon. The way the confirmed bachelor told it, two giggling girls had invaded his camp and he needed to go pretty far away to get any sleep.

The fact that Peter left Norway as a teenager made me curious, but time passes and youngsters tend not to ask the good questions while our elders are still around to answer them. Peter passed away several years before I made my travel plans. Since my husband wasn’t interested in visiting Norway, I went alone. I contacted my mother’s elderly cousins in Stavanger, arranged a visit in May of 1998, and took off with one small suitcase and a backpack.

I wasn’t a complete travel novice. I had lived two years in the south of France with my husband, and I speak enough French to get by. We had also taken a few road trips across Europe, but traveling on my own to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language was a little bit out of my comfort zone. It didn’t matter. I was determined. Luckily, the two Norwegian cousins had gone to school in London and worked as au pairs, so they spoke fluent English.

My first destination was Stavanger, where the cousins live.

My first destination was Stavanger, where the cousins live. Solveig, who was 79 years old at the time, invited me to stay at her apartment. I had an escorted tour of the town and enjoyed lunch in the Senior Center with Solveig and her friends. In a visit with Solveig’s sister and brother-in-law, I learned more about Uncle Pete and his brothers. Apparently the boys left Norway because it was too hard to make a living outside of farming or fishing in those days, and there were too many Ringstveit children for all to remain on the family farm. Not all of the brothers were successful in the U.S. One, Emil, gave up on America and returned to a fisherman’s life on an island off the coast of Norway.

Solveig, who was 79 years old at the time, invited me to stay at her apartment.

After the first few days in Stavanger, I left most of my luggage with Solveig, packed the necessities in my backpack, and caught a train to Oslo. After the tourist information service helped me find a hotel room, I quickly walked away from the station, which seemed to be a gathering place for teenaged drunks and drug addicts. The only sightseeing I did in Oslo was to the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The only sightseeing I did in Oslo was to the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The next day I took the train over the mountains to Bergen. The language barrier was a problem during this part of the trip, but I always found someone who knew enough English to answer the important questions. A kindly conductor made sure I knew about the box lunch that contained lefsa, a soft Norwegian flatbread covered with butter and cinnamon sugar and folded into a layered dessert.

In Bergen, I stayed at a cozy hotel on the harbor waterfront.

In Bergen, I stayed at a cozy hotel on the harbor waterfront where the window of my room looked down on a tiny alley way full of garbage cans. The lack of scenery from my window didn’t matter. A bird’s eye view of Bergen nestled among the hills was a short funicular ride away. When I got homesick for American food, I caved and indulged myself at a Norwegian Burger King.

I boarded the ferry in Bergen on a cold and windy, rainy day, worried I would get seasick as we worked our way down the coast in the choppy water, past the offshore oil rigs. Some passengers did get sick, but I held on to my breakfast all the way back to Stavanger.

From the family’s modern cabin on the old farm, I got a better sense of the homeland.

I was in for another history lesson. The cousins took me through the scary deep tunnels under the fjords to the northern countryside where our ancestors had farmed their land and fished in the nearby waters. From the family’s modern cabin on the old farm, I got a better sense of the homeland. I finally felt the connection I’d missed in Stavanger, Oslo, and Bergen. I walked the country roads and stared out across the water, seeing what the elders once saw every day, the rocky slopes they farmed, the land they defended against local marauders. The cousins told me that one of the ancients was a minor Norwegian king. Ringstveit was the name of the family farm.

There’s a sense of freedom that comes with a solo trek, which cannot be duplicated when you travel with family or friends, no matter how much you love them. I was afraid, but I did it anyway. I didn’t hide behind the cousins the whole trip. When I did go out on my own, I felt excited and energized. And I was proud of myself for taking a few risks. If I took the trip today, I would do more on my own, especially in Oslo. I’d talk to more people, and ask more questions. And I would learn more of the language. “Ja, takk” (“Yes, thank you”) is not enough.

***

Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator from Colorado. She generously promotes fellow authors in several genres, and she teaches local unpublished writers the skills of manuscript revision and editing. Check out Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series at www.patriciastoltey.com or patriciastoltey.blogspot.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

22 thoughts on “OLDER GALS TREK TOO: Discovering my Norwegian Homeland – by guest trekker Patricia Stoltey

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Patricia – What a wonderful story and adventure you had! I’m so glad you shared it with us. And thanks, too, for sharing those beautiful ‘photos! It sounds like a real trip of a lifetime. And I agree – there’s nothing like striking out on one’s own.

    Reply
  2. Carol Kilgore

    What a wonderful story. And photos. Bergen looks like my kind of place, but the view from the family farm is awesome. You made fantastic memories.

    Thanks for hosting her, Cara.

    Reply
  3. Ann Best

    Patricia: Beautifully written, with photographs to highlight the stops. I followed the Bergen link and bookmarked it!

    But the most touching of the tale is your discovering the “homeland.” I’m sure you have thoughts about it that run deeper than you can express here.

    Thank you, Cara, for posting this.
    Ann

    Reply
  4. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Thank YOU, Patricia, for sharing this story here. Your lovely post is meaningful to me on multiple levels. It resonates with my own recent search for family roots in China and El Paso. It inspires me as I approach 50 to hear that I may yet become a more fearless traveler, instead of a more nervous one. I also admire your support of fellow-authors and fellow-Coloradans on your blog and feel privileged to do my best to return the favor.

    Reply
  5. Patricia Stoltey

    Margot, most of my trips these days are to visit kids, but I never hesitate to take off alone and do a little solo sightseeing. I observe more when I’m on my own.

    Hi Carol, it’s great to see you here. I treasure those Norway photos, so I need to get the rest of them scanned and stored in digital files. The old prints are fading fast.

    Ann, you’re right. Actually seeing the land where my ancestors lived was a priceless experience. I’m so glad I made the trip.

    Cara, I do so many things now that I was afraid to do when I was younger. It’s one of the perks of getting older, at least for me.

    Reply
  6. jane Baskin

    Thanks, Patricia for such a wonderful and beautifully photographed post. Most of all, hats off to you for doing this as an “older gal.” I have a blog dedicated to the notion of life being an adventure when we are “older gals” and your post hits a very positive nerve.

    Reply
  7. Patricia Stoltey

    Jane and Monti, thanks for stopping by today. This ability to brave uncharted territory works well for writers too. No matter how hard it is to get out there and do those promo appearances, do it anyway. The more you do, the easier it becomes.

    Reply
  8. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Good point, Patricia. I think it applies to the writing itself, too. If a writer approaches the work with a sense of adventure, the reader turns the pages with excitement, too. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been meeting so many talented authors with an adventurous streak.

    Reply
  9. Mason Canyon

    Patricia, what a wonderful story. I’m not sure which is more interesting, the fact that you went alone or how much wonderful family history you had a chance to enjoy. Sounds like it was a great trip. Thanks for sharing.

    Cara, thanks for hosting Patricia and nice to ‘meet’ you.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

    Reply
  10. Patricia Stoltey

    Hi, Mason. It definitely was a trip with lots of rewards.

    Cara, I just spent the evening with a couple who made my Norway trip look like a luxury cruise. These folks, in their early 60s, just returned from an African trip where they volunteered on a private animal preserve, doing real work. Amazing photos and amazing stories. They’re thinking about going to India next. This young-in-heart lady also takes trips on her own. Older gals rock!

    Reply
  11. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Thanks for sharing that, Patricia. I’d be delighted to hear from her if she’s interested in sharing her story with an audience.

    And thank you for being my guest today. I’m so glad we talked about this subject. It makes me realize that there is still so much adventure to look forward to… including Norway. 🙂

    Reply
  12. Shannon Baker

    Pat,
    Such a wonderful story. Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision to go–believing you can do it alone. Too bad for many of us,that comes with age.

    Reply
  13. Janet Lane

    You rock, Pat! You’e an explorer! Thanks for sharing your experience. At 20, I wanted to leave my home state of Iowa and live in San Francisco I took a job after being “interviewed” long distance, and even though my best friend wouldn’t move with me, I was determined to see a new world, so I moved by myself to SF. Like you, I gained a new sense of independence and freedom that I’ve carried with me ever since.
    Happy travels, friend!

    Reply
  14. Patricia Stoltey

    Shannon and Janet, thanks for dropping by.

    I wasn’t all that brave when I was 20 though. I was in my 30s before I got out of the Midwest, and in my 40s before I traveled outside the U.S. I’ve been doing my best to make up for lost time.

    Reply
  15. GutsyWriter

    We have something in common: Scandinavian roots. Mine are Danish though, and I was born there. I love Scandinavia and I’m sure most Norwegians spoke English. I know Danes do, especially the under fifty crowd. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  16. Patricia Stoltey

    Hi Sonia the Gutsy Writer — I encountered quite a few folks of all ages on the trip who didn’t speak English, including the husband of Solveig’s sister and their children and grandchildren. Luckily, almost everyone involved with herding tourists, as in most countries, spoke the language fluently.

    Reply
  17. Beth Partin

    “…youngsters tend not to ask the good questions while our elders are still around to answer them.” So true. I wish I could ask my grandmother about her time in the Catholic orphanage, but it’s too late.

    Reply
  18. Patricia Stoltey

    I have similar regrets, Beth. It’s a good reason for us to leave diaries or detailed letters for our own young’uns because someday they’ll regret not asking us those questions.

    Reply

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