Friday, July 29, 2011


In light of last week's events in Norway, Project Project will be taking a little break*. We need time to grieve, to breathe and regroup. Our own loved ones are safe, but our hearts are broken by the enormous loss our little country has to bear. It hurts so much.

I am working on a longer post about this tragedy and how it has affected our own little Norwegian outpost here in the Wild West, but the words are slow to come. Be patient with me, and I am sure the blog will be back to its normal silliness before too long.

*We have also run into a bump in the road in the form of my gallbladder needing to be removed next week, so bear with us!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


We just passed the one-month-since-we-got-back mark, so I am trying to crank out these travel posts as fast as I can! But I want to record the things we did, as well as share them with you, so please bear with me while I get caught up.

While we were in the Netherlands, Tess and Jasper took us to Kinderdijk, a village that boasts 19 windmills built during the 1500s. And they are pretty!

How many windmills do you see? Espen only has eyes for the cows at this point.

We spent an absolutely magical morning tromping around and looking at windmills. It doesn't get much more Dutch than that! Actually, Tess and Jasper had never visited before. It's just one of those touristy places that you don't really go out of your way to visit if you're a local. But I think they were glad that they did!

Most of the windmills are privately owned now (people live in them!), but there was one windmill that we could visit and explore. It was so fun to climb around inside and see how a miller and his family would have lived. Let's just say that personal space wouldn't have been much of a priority back then!

The pictures we took inside the mill didn't really turn out too great (too dark), but here is one taken right outside the mill to give you a sense of scale. What you can't see from the photo is how incredibly fast those sails got going when the wind kicked up. Not bad for 500 year-old technology!

The windmills were used to pump water in order to keep the country from flooding, and so each windmill is built right on a canal. And the canals were full of waterlilies, that I just couldn't stop taking photos of.

We rounded off our trip to Kinderdijk with a canal-side picnic. As you can see, Espen was a pretty big fan of the Gouda cheese. I loved seeing how quickly and easily he adapted to everywhere we took him. He even learned to say "windmill" during our visit.

Finally, here is a quick video of us at Kinderdijk. It really sums up the feeling of the day for me. Pretty idyllic, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

About Amsterdam from Brussels (finished in Spanish Fork)

Here's a post I started writing while traveling, but threw aside with reckless abandon as soon as Nick brought me some much-needed dinner. Better late then never, right?

I have a few quiet moments to myself while Espen sleeps peacefully in the bathroom(!) of our hotel room and Nick is out trying to track down some dinner. We're in Brussels for one night only on our way to catching the Eurostar (high speed train) to London tomorrow. It completely blows my mind that you can travel that distance on land in only 2 hours, and tomorrow we are trying it out!

We've had the best time in The Netherlands. Tess and Jasper were fantastic hosts who not drove us all over the country as our tour guides, but were so happy to accommodate Espen's needs too. Traveling with a toddler can be tough for all involved, so it means so much when someone goes that extra mile for your little one. Thank you!

Well, let me tell you a little about our time in Holland, starting with our day in Amsterdam. Do we need to have a little heart to heart about Amsterdam? Yes, I rather think we do.

When I said "Amsterdam", did your brain come back with "legalized drugs, prostitution and wooden shoes"? If it did, you'd be right on all accounts. However, in our experience (and as with most nastiness), if you're after those things in Amsterdam, you'd have to go looking for them. We weren't looking for them, and so all we saw was a beautiful, unique city brimming with history on every corner.

A few things that stood out to me:

The History. Amsterdam is an old place with lots of stories to tell and sights to see. You quite literally cannot turn a street corner without coming across another beautiful old church, building or statue. The art history geek in me could spend months exploring the city and putting it all together. At the same time I enjoyed seeing how the old and traditional coexisted so peacefully with the new and modern. The photo above is a good example of that: it shows the royal palace in Amsterdam, and although you can't quite see it in the photo, there were school children playing soccer outside in the grounds. A perfect example of how to marry the old with the new, I think.

We would have made it too, had our feet not been so tired!

The Architecture. Like I mentioned above, Amsterdam is such an old place where buildings have been allowed to stand pretty much as they are for hundreds of years. That creates a great opportunity to literally see a timeline of Dutch architecture as the period and style changes from building to building. And even if you don't get all nerdy about it, you can still just enjoy the prettiness of it all.

The Churches. They were everywhere! The Netherlands has a long history of religious tolerance, and so it seemed like all kinds of congregations had built their own place of worship. The photos are from a Jesuit church that we happened to step inside.

The flower market. It was fun to see bucket after bucket of tulip bulbs, and I was sorely tempted to bring some home with us to remember our trip. However, in the end my fear of getting in trouble with customs got the better of me, and I left them there. Instead, I took lots of photos of all the little stalls stuffed to the rafters with flowers.

The Rijksmuseum. The Dutch National Museum of Art. My goodness, this place certainly deserves its own post! It was really fun to see some really well-known paintings that I studied in my art history classes in college, like Vermeer's Milk Maid (detail seen on the banner in the photo above) or Rembrandt's Night Watch, but I also enjoyed discovering a few works that were either new to me, or that I didn't know as well. I love this marriage portrait by Frans Hals, they just look so relaxed and happy to be together.

Finally, a shout-out to aunt Tess. We've never had a nanny, nor are we ever really likely to get one, but traveling with Tess definitely showed us why some people choose to go that route. Having worked as a nanny, Tess was confident and happy to just step in and take over Espen so we could enjoy the day and our surroundings. And Espen loved the attention and getting to explore new places with his aunt. In fact, he still talks about her daily after almost two months!

And that was our day out in Amsterdam. I feel like we saw just enough to know that we need to see more! With Tess living there, I am sure we will be back before too long.
Images borrowed here and here.

Monday, July 11, 2011


A quick break from all of the trip posts. Contrary to how I sometimes feel, life didn't quite come to a grinding halt as soon as we got back, and we have actually been doing stuff. Including knitting some fruit.

I've been off the knitting wagon for ages and ages (a year, anyway) but suddenly felt the need to dig out my needles again. And this is the result!

I started out with the apple, which I knit up in about an evening. I was really pleased with how it turned out, and Espen (its intended recipient) loves it too. He likes to pretend to take bites out of it, and thinks it makes a great ball.

Then, because the apple was so quick and satisfying to make, I decided to make a pear as well. It was equally quick and easy to make, although I'm not quite so delighted with its looks. Oh well.

If this pattern holds, we should be looking at an entire fruit bowl by the end of the week. We will see!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Norway 2011: Valdres

Seeing as Nick had never really spent much time in Valdres, the area of Norway where my family comes from, we decided to take the scenic route to and from the family reunion. Would you like to see some photos from our trip?

Our first stop on the way up was at Møllerstugufossen to see some petroglyphs.
What is a petroglyph, you say?

One of these. They are prehistoric images carved into stone.
The red coloring has been added later to make them easier to see.

Møllerstugufossen has a whole big area of large, smooth rocks that are covered with them. I will spare you the art history lecture, and just say that they are awesome and beautiful and I like them.

Espen, on the other hand, was much more interested in jumping into the white water over yonder.

Next we stopped at my dad's cousin Steinar's place.
He had a whole collection of tractors, and boy howdy, was someone pleased to see them!

Hint: It was Espen.

OK, this photo is actually from the reunion when we all went for a walk, and it was freezing cold! Espen borrowed a hat - can you tell?
That is someone's posh cabin in the background, made to look all old and traditional, but probably has a couple of flat screens and a hot tub inside.

A photo of my grandfather's old house, the house that my dad and his five siblings grew up in. The photo was stealthily taken through the bushes because the house hasn't belonged to the family for years, so we were just being creepers.

We stopped to see an old church (with the cemetery in the last post) but totally got distracted by this enormous crane strutting around in the field next to the church. He struck a few poses, then flew off over the horizon.

We drove throught Etnedal on the way back from Valdres (waste of time, if you ask someone from Valdres) and stopped to see this bridge and adjoining park. Again, Espen was desperate to get in the (raging) waters, and I was equally desperate to keep him out. But isn't the bridge pretty?

And there you have it! My ancestral home and a lovely rearview of me in my dad's raincoat. Ah, blogging.

Norway 2011: Family Reunion

While we were in Norway, we were lucky enough with our timing that we were able to attend a family reunion for my dad's side of the family. It was a great chance to get to see a lot of family members all at once, and to show Nick the area of the country where my family comes from. And the fact that the reunion was being held in a swanky-pantsed cabin at a ski resort didn't hurt either :) So off we went for two days of intensive family-ing it up in the mountains of Valdres.

We saw aunts (including my favorite - you know who you are! :) ) and uncles and cousins and second and third cousins. I was especially happy to have a chance to see my grandmother. She celebrated her 90th birthday in December, and is just an all round great lady. Remind me to tell you about her sometime.

We were also happy to get to spend some time with my cousin Wendy and her family. We read each other's blogs and stay in touch a lot through Facebook, so it was fun to see each other in person. I was especially excited to meet her youngest son, Dylan, for the first time. He and Espen are less than a year apart in age, and so we have been interested in each other's experiences as the boys grow and develop. And of course it was just fun to see them play and have fun together!

My family has lived in Valdres for hundreds and hundreds of years. In fact, I believe my dad has traced some of our ancestors back to the 13th century (right, Daddy?) So when we stopped by an old church on the way back, it wasn't too surprising to see that we were related to half the cemetery. My maiden name is Robøle, and if you look at the head stones in the photo below, we are well represented. Creepy? Or just nice to know where you come from?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Norway 2011: A day out in Oslo

While we were in Norway, we had the pleasure of playing hosts to Nick's little sister Tess and her boyfriend Jasper. They live in the Netherlands, so thanks to cheap airfare inside Europe, they were able to make the short hop up to Norway to spend a few days with us. It was great because Tess hadn't seen Espen since he was two days old, and we just plain old like her! I think it was especially fun for Nick to get to show his little sister around the country he lived in for two years.

One day we took Tess and Jasper down to Oslo. Thanks to my parents, we had some more than willing babysitters who took care of Espen so we could spend the entire day in he city without worrying about wearing him out. Instead, he wore out his granny and granddad!

Our first stop was the Viking ship museum. It houses three full-size viking ships, the oldest of which has been dated to about 815 AD. I had visited several times over the years, but the beauty and history of those ships just gets me every time. It is significant to feel that connection to the people who once lived and worked in my country. Norway has such a rich heritage, and I am so proud to call it my own.

A detail of the Oseberg ship, built fit for a queen.

One of the best things about Oslo is that it is built on the Oslofjord. This means that at least half the city has an ocean view, and it means that there are ferries that connect the areas along the fjord to the city. Travel tip: Buy a pass to the city's public transportation (bus, subway, tram) and it will include use of the ferries. We took the bus out to the museum, and then the ferry back again. Unless you're planning to leave the city, don't even think about renting a car. Parking is outrageously expensive, and you will waste lots of time sitting in traffic. Public transportation is the way to go.

Tess and Jasper waiting for the ferry to take us back to the city.

After lunch, we hopped on the tram up to the Vigeland park, another must-see in Oslo. It is a large park that displays more than 200 sculptures by the artist Gustav Vigeland. We heard a huge clap of thunder as soon as we stepped into the park, which cleared out the tour buses in minutes.

We sheltered under some enormous oak trees which kept us dry and (mostly) warm until the storm passed, which really wasn't long at all. While we were standing there, it was fun to notice how easy it was to spot the Norwegians in the crowd, as they were the ones who seemed completely un-phased by the weather.

Then, when the storm passed, we were given the very rare treat of a completely empty park:

Climbing the steps to the Monolith.

One of my very favorite sculptures.

After the park, we caught the tram downtown again, and walked down Karl Johan, which is the main street in Oslo. The palace sits on the hill at one end, and unromantically, the train station at the other. Along the way we passed the university of Oslo, the parliament buildings, the Grand Hotel where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented every year. And some shopping. Nick and I stopped off for books, and Tess and Jasper detoured for some gelato.

Then we rounded off the day with a quick walk on the roof of the new opera house. The roof slopes all the way down into the fjord, which allows visitors to walk up and around the building. I love the architecture, and I love how accessible the building is for everyone to enjoy. And the view of the fjord is pretty gorgeous too. (Tess, where are your photos?!?)


After that we hobbled across the street and loaded our tired bodies onto the bus home. We really enjoyed playing tour guide to Tess and Jasper, and it was good to know that even though it has been years since I lived there myself, I can still find my way around the city. I was never much of a city girl, but Oslo still feels a bit like home.