For my last trip I decided to go to Oslo, Norway and stay with some family friends. I haven’t seen the daughters since 2nd grade so it was a fun reunion! They had leftovers from thanksgiving so I finally got to have sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and best of all.. pumpkin pie! We started off the next morning with smoked salmon and eggs before they left for work and I headed off to explore Oslo. My first stop was the Holmenkollen ski jump and ski museum. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperating and although I got a nice view of Oslo in the tram on the way up the mountain, by the time I got as high as the ski jump I couldn’t see more than twenty feet in front of me. After wandering around the base of the jump a bit, I found the museum and the man working the desk let me sneak up to the elevator go up the tower for free! The fact that I’d snuck in made me unsure of where I was supposed to go and hesitant to ask someone in case they asked for a ticket.. so after following signs for the jump lookout deck, I found myself in front of the elevator door. I had the impression that there was usually someone there running the elevator for tourists but I decided to give it a go. The door opened, and although there were no buttons for different floors, there was an arrow pointing up. I pressed it and started a nerve-racking ride to the top. I’m not sure if the glass windows helped or hurt as I slowly inched upward, all I could think about was what if the elevator wasn’t being used for a reason, what if I plummeted down the hundreds of feet into the cement at the bottom, or what if I got stuck halfway up. No one knew where I was! If there was a security camera in the elevator the guy at the bottom definitely got a good laugh as a I swore, clutched the railing, and then started deep breathing exercises while focusing on the slowly approaching top to avoid looking at the thin cables moving me upwards. Luckily I survived and the door opened into a barren room, I was the only tourist on this foggy day in early December. There were some photographs of the stunning view I would have had without the clouds, and after walking around the viewing platform for a few minutes, I decided I’d pushed my luck enough and headed back down to ground level (the ride was equally as terrifying). I took the metro into the center of Oslo and walked along the main pedestrian street, the Christmas market, the Parliament, King’s Castle, and the Nobel Peace prize center. I got to the harbor and the fortress just in time for sunset (3:30 pm, I’d forgotten going north meant a change in daylight) and then headed back to the house to get ready for the mountains!
After a 3-hour drive, we arrived in Rauland. The cabin was wonderfully cozy, and after building a fire in the fire place and enjoying a Danish Christmas beer, we had a nightcap of Norwegian goat cheese and wine. I slept great, albeit with a sweatshirt, 2 pairs of leggings, wool socks, and 2 comforters (with the heat on). Hopefully I can survive winter in Utah when I get back, the warm weather in Bordeaux has turned me into a weakling! I woke up to a view of snow snowcapped pines, a calm lake reflecting the morning light, and mountains! The delivery of Norwegian Flatbrød from a friend in town came just in time to be dipped in my hot chocolate.. Yum! On the way out of town we stopped by said friend’s house and I learned how to roll out the flat bread and learned to cook it on the crêpe-pan like apparatus.
Next: off to Hardanger fjord! The scenery along the way was stunning; there is SO much water everywhere! It seeps out of every rock; there was a waterfall around almost every turn in the road, not to mention the streams, marshes, and lakes that lined the road. Just before getting to the Hardanger plateau, we came to a huge expanse above the tree line that looked like the arctic (the pictures I’ve seen of it at least): huge expanses of ice and snow glinting in the sunlight, almost no houses, and nothing in the distance but mountains and blue sky. Leaving the plateau we started the tunnel section… we drove through at least 7 on the way to the coast, the longest one was more than 5 kms and completely straight, another one only took a few minutes to drive through but spiraled upwards through the mountain, I got so dizzy I have no idea how semi-drivers survive in there. The roads were pretty bad and on the final stretch down to the ocean we passed 2 trucks that were stuck on the icy uphill and an hour earlier we passed a car that had just slid off the road into the trees. Luckily we made it with no mishaps! The valley leading down to the fjord was spectacular: waterfalls thundered down the dark cliffs and a lazy river wound through peaceful farms with still-green fields and log houses. The fjord was beautiful, but the drive to get there was the best part by far.
On the way back we stopped at Haukeliseter lodge so that I could try the traditional sour cream porridge. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but with some cinnamon sugar and raisins and washed down with the local microbreweries pale ale I nearly inhaled it. The porridge probably shouldn’t be part of a regular diet though; I can imagine cooked down sour cream is good at blocking arteries.
We had dinner with the flatbread friends and had a Norwegian appetizer of the fresh-baked Flatbrød, butter, and ‘Old Cheese’. It turns out this cheese is actually very new cheese, aged only 14 days, and the strangest consistency cheese I’ve ever eaten. The mold that creates it looks like millions of long hairs throughout the block. Not an enticing description, but camouflaged with enough butter it was pretty good! *note: many stores in Norway are OUT of butter until after Christmas. OUT. All of them! It has something to do with lots of people trying the lowcarb diet and the agricultural producers diminishing manufacturing since they haven’t been paid enough. I cant imagine not being able to find butter in the store! For more info: http://expatsnorway.com/2011/12/03/i-cant-believe-theres-no-butter/
Back to dinner: we had a nice meal of potatoes, cauliflower, fish, and some delicious onion sauce accompanied by the house-brewed beer. So satisfying. He also sent me home with a whole bag of flatbread so hopefully I can bring some of it back to Bordeaux or even Utah!
The next morning we went to the Rauland Vierli ski resort which was awesome, I wish I’d been there when there was more snow! The rest of the day we wandered around downtown Rauland and then had a last supper of trout with sour-cream sauce, I never knew sour cream was such a big part of Norwegian cuisine!
And back to Bordeaux for finals!
I left Thursday afternoon to meet my aunt and cousin in a small town in central France made famous by its small scale, high quality knife production. They picked me up at the closest train station (an hour away) at 9pm and we headed off in what we hoped was the right direction for Lagioule. Trying to find our bed and breakfast turned out to be more difficult than anticipated due to a combination of poor night vision and never knowing which part of the directions we were at. We ended up in the small ‘town’ of Jabrun: 2 houses next to a cemetery, no sign of a B&B. Right town, but we clearly weren’t where we were supposed to be. Luckily a pickup truck came along right as we were discussing what to try next (11pm now) and I hopped out to ask for directions. The man kindly offered to lead us to the B&B: we ended up driving in a circle right back to the main road where we’d been about 15 minutes before; I’m sure he got a good laugh stumbling upon three lost American women late at night in the middle of a farm town.
After some crepes and coffee in the morning we headed to Lagioule. We went to the local cheese factory, tasted fresh cheese, 2 month, 4 month, 12 month, 18 month, and 24 month aged versions, and watched the workers making the fresh curds. The knife forge didn’t have tours until the afternoon so we walked around town looking at knife shops (nearly every other store) and checked out the tiny church and cemetery on the hill. The knife tour was very educational and made us savvy buyers: we learned each step of the process, saw the wooden handles being carved and sanded by workers, and learned that any cheap “Lagioule” knives we found in stores were in fact made ‘in Pakistan by children who work in slave conditions’. Geez! Apart from being educational, the tour was also an hour-long advertisement for their store, the only place, so they claimed, that actually made every single part of their knives, down to the forged metal. Their strategy worked on us and we left with a set of 12 wood-handled steak knives (my cousin’s goal for the trip), a kitchen knife for my aunt, and a new pocket knife/wine opener and bread knife for the McIntyre cabin. Not a cheap day! That night we tried the local specialty: Aligot. Its a mashed potato-like dish that is cooked with the local cheese in a way that the cheese and potatoes are mixed so perfectly that it creates ribbons of stretchy cheesy potatoes when you serve it. Deliciously rich and velvety smooth, but so filling that it was impossible to finish.
The next day we set off for Bordeaux, my parents were arriving at 3 and we had a 5-hour drive to get there. After picking them up and settling into the house they were staying in, my mom took a jet lag nap while the rest of us started in on some Lagioule cheese and white wine my cousin had picked up earlier on their drive. We took the tram into downtown Bordeaux for dinner at the Brasserie Bordelaise had a meal of regional specialties like seafood Carpaccio, Cassoulet (a very rich slow-cooked bean stew from southern France typically containing meat such as pork sausages, duck, goose, pork skin, and white haricot beans), eel stew, and grilled scallops… we ended the night with crème brûlé and Armagnac (brandy from southern france made from distilled wine) followed by a walk along the river and mirroir d’eau.
Sunday we met for the St. Michel flea market, held in the low-income/’artsy’ part of Bordeaux, the area many new immigrants live in when they arrive from North Africa. The market was packed and my cousin came away with a few good finds. Afterwards we headed up the quays to the food market and indulged in local oysters, the best grilled shrimp I’ve ever had, white wine, and fresh bread. My mom also introduced us to Livarot (my new favorite cheese) as well as a seasonal cheese from the Alps that’s so soft it’s served with a spoon. The market was insanely busy because of the sunshine and warm weather and everyone was in a great mood: a group of people sitting next to us gave us most of a bottle of wine as they left and told us to “enjoy Bordeaux!” I’d never seen French people be so friendly with tourists before! For dinner, I borrowed my French families Raclette machine (basically a cheese heater) and we had a filling and fattening meal of potatoes, cornichons (mini pickles) foie gras, salami meats from the market and sooo much cheese.
The next morning we set off for the Dordogne, a region a bit east of Bordeaux known for its foie gras production, truffles, and tiny towns centered on commanding ancient fortresses and castles. My mom and I visited a friend there this summer for a few days, so she knew of a great B&B to stay at right on the Dordogne river. We rented canoes for the afternoon and had a leisurely paddle past several of the ‘most beautiful towns in France’ and plenty of castles and manor houses. Such a perfect afternoon! When we got back to La Roque Gageac, we explored the steep narrow streets in the last light of the day and hiked to the top of the cliffs for an amazing sunset view of the river valley.
Being the only guests at the B&B and having a wonderful chef who received a box of freshly gathered Cèpes (King Bolitus mushrooms) was the best.. they appeared in nearly every dish we ordered and we ate like royalty. After a restful night (so quiet!) my dad and I got up before breakfast to scramble to the top of the cliffs one more time and see the sun rise over the valley. A delicious breakfast prepared us for the road trip back to Bordeaux, and I set off for class.
The next day I decided to skip class in favor of wine tasting so we picked up some bread and cheese at my favorite shops and hit the road for the famous wine region north of Bordeaux: the Médoc. Luckily one of the vineyards my cousin (the red wine connoisseur) was interested in had a tour available in English. We learned a lot about the history of wine making in Bordeaux, the differences in grape varieties, soil types, wine tastes by appellation around Bordeaux, and got a tour of the aging tanks and barrel storing room. We ended the tour with a dégustation (tasting) of bottles from 4 different years, and came away with a bottle of 2007 that the guide told us should be aged 4-10 years, but probably wont survive past Christmas.
That night we had dinner with my French family, which consisted of more oysters and seafood, lots of champagne and wine, duck breast, and chocolate cake. When I got out of class on Thursday (Thanksgiving!) we went to a 2-hour wine and cheese tasting. I learned a lot more about wine, tasted the effect a bit of cured meat can have on the taste of wine, and then sampled at least 20 cheeses from the self-serve wine cave. It was definitely a bad idea to let me down there… all the cheese and wine along with a seafood dinner that was our Thanksgiving meal made me horribly sick the next day. Unfortunately it was also the day of our cooking class so I mostly sat and watched as my family learned to cook chicken breast stuffed with mushroom and foie gras, lamb wrapped in pork intestines with a mushroom sauce, and puff pastries with a foie gras- mushroom filling. My weak stomach barely survived all the raw meat but I started feeling better as we wandered the Marché de Noel. I had no idea Bordeaux was going to be so into Christmas celebrations! There are lights and Christmas trees (sapins) everywhere and the longest Bûche de Noel in France was set out and given out for free on Friday night! I had to study all evening since my final for my two geography classes was Saturday morning at 9. . terrible timing. Afterwards we spent a relaxing last afternoon together walking around town and picking up gifts.
It was hard to see them off but I’ll be back in Utah within a month!