Saturday, October 13, 2012

The final chapter…our year with Sondre

Dear Lerhol Family & Friends,
I guess I lied.  My last blog was not my last.  This is my last blog.
After an amazing trip to Norway in August, Scott and I felt like we needed to share one last and final blog post about our wonderful trip to meet Sondre’s parents.  Our trip to Norway was simply magical…almost beyond words. 
Short of being overly sentimental, I can tell you that having two of the greatest exchange students, in exchange student history (Tore and Sondre), changed our lives in so many ways…we gained two sons, unbelievable extended families and lifelong friends along the way.  It has been life altering to say the least. We have learned much about Norwegian culture and they have learned equally about US culture.  I always joke that I am starting to think I am Norwegian.     
Our Norwegian adventure began with a visit Tore's parents, Bjorg and Terje Gloppen who incidentally, we had not seen in 10 years since our last visit to Norway…and yet we picked up with them like it was yesterday….as old friends.  As we say in the US…“just like old shoes”…that you love and that are very comfortable.  The Gloppen’s live in Hamar, which is an inland region on the banks of Lake Mjøsa, Norway’s largest inland lake.  They have a beautiful home overlooking the lake and a wonderful outdoor deck, where we enjoyed a few beers.   We toured Hamar during the day, and then they served us a 5-star gourmet meal for dinner.  Such a fun night, with two very special people who are kind, interesting, interested and fun.  Tore lives in Bergen and is a sports announcer for a local TV station…we were looking forward to seeing him at Pal and Elin’s wedding in Geiranger in a few days.  We have been very fortunate to see Tore about every other year since he left 10 years ago.

Terje and Bjorg Gloppen...our good friends..oh and the other parents to Tore :)


This is a church in Hamar that was relocated from Houston Minnestoa.  Crazy

These are the Hamar church ruins (build in 1232) that now have  an atrium over them to preserve them.  They host events under the atrium.  How cool. 

Next, we went to Fagernes.  Fagernes is the largest town in the valley of Valdres, Norway, with a population of about 1,800.  It is beautiful with the surrounding mountain area of the Jotunheimen; about 3 hours northwest of Oslo.  We love this town…it is where Tore, Pal and Lars grew up and went to school.  Sondre is finishing his final year of high school there.  In Norway, students attend one more year of high school than students do in the US. During the school year, Sondre lives in an apartment there with some of his friends.  Billy (our son) attended the Norwegian Folk School for a year in Fagernes as well.  Scott and I stayed at the historic Hotel Fagernes and had a great time exploring the town and surrounding area.


Hotel Fagernes

View from our room

Vang i Valdres:   

After a day in Fagernes, we headed to the Lerhol Family Farm in Vang.  I bet I said “oh wow” a thousand times on our drive from Fagernes to Vang…it was just spectacular.  We were very excited to see Sondre again and to meet his Mom (Sigrun) and Dad (Jon) and his sister (Synne). We have known his brothers…Knut for over 10 years (he is a very good friend of Tore and Billy) and Torstein for a couple of years. 
We were not sure what to expect…but I can tell you, it was beyond our wildest dreams….a bit like living in a postcard of Norway and in a history book.  We felt welcome the moment we arrived.  Sigrun and Jon were extremely gracious hosts and Sondre was very proud to show us where he grew up.    

Drinking homemade raspberry lemonade from Sondre's grandma

The Infamous Waterfall on the Lerhol Farm
We had seen pictures of the farm but the pictures did not really do it justice. When Sondre first showed us a picture of the farm, Scott asked him…”if he had ever climbed to the bottom of the waterfall” and Sondre said “no” which really surprised Scott, so we swore to Sondre that we would climb it when we got there, so that is the first thing we did. 
It was not an easy climb for us sissy “city slickers”…no groomed trails or paths, but Sondre flawlessly led us up the side of the mountain so we could see it.  The amazing thing is that you can drink right out of the the waterfall.  It is the primary source of water to the farm house.   

The infamous waterfall

Half way!

Made it!!!!

After our hike, we headed down to the lake in front of the farm for a boat ride and a glass of wine… (told you his parents were cool.) We visited Knut’s summer cabin across the lake.  As we toured the lake….Scott and I continued to say….”oh wow.”  Oh yes, and I brought the pet goat down there on  leash  Too funny.     

Kristoffer and Torstein on the front of the cannot see it but Torstein was yelling "I am the king of the world (or Lerhold Gard)"
How Leonardo DiCaprio of him.  :)

Knut's cabin across the lake from the farm

We had a wonderful dinner, and played a rousing game of “Smart Ass” (the Norwegians are wicked smart and informed) and a great political debate ensued, with opposing views on many topics. Nothing like a good hearty political discussion, that ends with a handshake and broadened understanding and perspective of each other’s points of view.  Day one on the farm…was a raging success.  

Scott and Torstein talking smack..Scott nearly had him converted. 

The history of the farm… 
The Lerhol farm is surrounded by, not only amazing beauty, but years and years of history.  Jon’s family has been farming in Vang since the 1300’s and there is literally a museum on their property.  No kidding.  The museum is a protected Norwegian historic site and is loaded with amazing artifacts, including tools, wood-carvings and clothes to name a few.

Still locked with the oringal lock.

Hand carved butter mold

A ski pole made from an antler and horn...ingenious.

Wooden door locks....

Mouse trap

Ancient burial mounds
Synne took Scott and me on a trek to visit an old burial mound on the Lerhol Farm.  There are several burial mounds well-constructed with stone dating back to 400 A.D (the old iron age).  The one we visited has been unearthed…and we were able to crawl into it.  Items that were excavated from the grave included a necklace made of colored glass and amber, game pieces made of glass, the handle of a shield & part of a belt buckle. There are some other items there were found from another mound (600 -900 A.D.) that have not been fully established, but are believed to be a spike made from iron, a “Skav” axe, point of a spear, point of an arrow and a frying pan to name a few.   It is hard to fathom how old these items are.  The items are safely on display at a museum in Oslo.

The burial mound

You can crawl in here...Scott did, I did not.

The Lerhol’s have linkage to nobility too. There is an 800 year-old legend, that Sigvat Leirholar (which has evolved to Lerhol) had fallen in love with a woman, already betrothed to another Knight.  Right before she was supposed to marry the other Knight, she sent a secret message to Sigvat to save her.  Sigvat and his men set out on horses get the love of his life, but came upon a huge chasm in the Jotunheimen Mountains across the Valdersflya [river]. The legend has it that after he saved her, he leaped across a two meter chasm carrying his love on his back.  today it is still known as Ridderspranget ...translated to the "Knights leap".  Apparently, he paid dearly for his love as he had to forfiet his rich and fertile land as a penalty....but love always wins in the end.  [Caveat: accuracy is +/- 20% as I am trying to recall the story Jon told us]   
The Knights Leap

The Farm:
Silly us! We figured there would a house, a barn and maybe another structure…but we were wrong. There was the house (really cool…with a grass roof), the new barn, the old barn, the museum, the Grandparents house (that Knut is renovating), the “UP” farm, the “OUT” farm, the FISHING cabin, a summer cabin across the lake, a sauna, and the structure that cures meat etc…. 
We spent most of the day touring the farms.  Jon and Sigrun are extremely knowledgeable about the family history and also so clearly passionate about their love for the farm.  Sigrun, Jon, Scott and I had a picnic at the newly renovated UP farm, which is atop the mountain overlooking the main farmhouse with a panoramic view of the valley.  Yep….you guessed it, we said “oh wow” a lot.  (We forgot to take a picture of the main house...which is beautiful)

The UP farm...newly renovated and fabulous

Inside the UP Farm

We then ventured to the OUT farm, which was several miles away.  The OUT farm is cozy and quaint and you just feel the richness of history and tradition there. Jon is planning to renovate it sometime in the future.  I am not sure if Jon and Sigrun ever sit down.

The OUT farm and barn

Check out that view...

When we returned from our farm tour Knut and Mette (Knut’s girlfriend) had arrived from Trondheim…it was great to see Knut and meet Mette…who we loved instantly.  Scott said…”it is funny, I feel like I have known Mette forever”.  We approve, by the way.  We had a very special dinner that evening and enjoyed spending time with the entire Lerhol family (and Torstein and Synne’s aides) and friends and neighbors from the surrounding farm.  All of the Lerhol’s had a hand in creating an amazing feast.  The food was simply outstanding…at every meal I might add. 
After dinner…we all got into our bathing suits, and went down to the sauna and then jumped into the lake, which was very, very cold but very refreshing.  Apparently Jon and Sigrun were making side bets that I would not jump in the lake, but what they don’t know about me is my favorite thing to do is camp is the Boundary Waters...where the water is just as cold.  I proved them wrong.  Great night.

Mette and Knut in front of the sauna

When we woke up the next day…we were feeling a bit melancholy…knowing that we were leaving this wonderful family and that we had to say good-bye to Sondre for real this time.  When he left Minnetonka in June, we knew we would see him in just a few months. Being able to meet Sondre’s family is a luxury that most host families do not experience.  Sigrun and Jon are amazing people and now I understand why all of their children are so great.  Thank you Lerhols for making us feel so welcome and comfortable.  We will be back…for much longer next time. 
Off to the wedding.
Scott, Knut, Mette and I set off for Pal and Elin’s wedding in Geiranger.  Tore was the best man and Knut and Lars were the masters of ceremony. We also got to spend more time with Bjorg and Terje..which was wonderful.  It was a very intimate amazing experience. Scott and I did not understand anything anyone said…yet we still laughed and cried during all of the toasts and could feel the love in the room.  We loved meeting all of their friends and family and Scott was able to give a toast to the newlyweds in English.    

Road side picnic with Knut and Mette

Not too shabby of a drive

Almost there

the night before the wedding

LOVE this...everyone is wearing the natinoal costumes (they are different by region) cool.

Tore Herberg Gloppen...the best man. 

The church...we took a boat through the fjords to get there.

The bride and groom...we have known Pal for 10 years...his Grandma lives in Minnesota
The happy family

Knut and it


Tore again

Elin was a fun bride...

Traditional Norwegian dancing...Knut and Pal rocked it.
After a week in Norway…we left for Prague to meet Martha and Doug Miller…and very unexpectedly, Tore decided to join us for a few days.  We were over the moon excited that he was going to come along.  He is a special young man who we love being with.  Spending time with our great friends (Martha has been my best friend since grade school) and the “original exchange student” in a beautiful city=PRICELESS. We walked, biked and Segway-toured our way around Prague.  We ate great food and drank lots of great beer.  Prague should be on everyone’s travel list.  
We have been getting in trouble together for over 40 years.

Smile Marty

Segway tour...Martha had a near death experience...but it was hilarious

Nice view of Prague

Ice Bar

Night view

Gee smoking is so glamorous!

30 mile bike tour....

Our last night...a perfect ending to a wonderful trip.

Night cap...mine is the cosmo, Tore has the Gin &Tonic and Scott has the beer.  Millers retired to their suite by this time.
This really is my last blog. Promise. 
Lots of love and Tusen Tuk 
Alix and Scott

Here is a link to a great video of the Lerhol Gard (farm)
Lerhol øst