Have you ever found yourself in a location while traveling that you never planned to be?
I never would have planned on going to Sørfjorden.
If you would have given me a map of Norway and asked where I wanted to go, I would have either chosen the town where my relatives were from or somewhere with a cheap hostel and some nice mountains, or a cheap hostel and some nice beer.
I never would have heard of Sørfjorden and even if I had, it’s unlikely I would have made the trip since it’s so remote.
Yet, here I am.
Maybe its a good thing to commit to visiting a friend before you know where they really live.
Unless they live in prison… But luckily, my friend Karl just lives in Sørfjorden.
Sørfjorden is one of the rare, special places left in the world where life is simple.
Even if you want to complicate it, you won't have many options.
The beauty is in watching the waves on the sea and the sunrise and sunset over the fjords, the people who you meet on the road while going for a walk, the moss-covered rocks and the jagged mountains.
You can’t come here and remain anonymous, but you can come and get some peace and quiet.
True, there isn’t much to do here in terms of traditional travel.
If you were to run a Google search of dining options in town you’d find a confusing mish-mash of results that are not in Sørfjorden because there is only one café and it’s not open during the off-season.
For shopping, you can go to the local grocery store when it’s open. If it’s night life you’re looking for, you will find yourself alone staring up at the northern lights.
And this is Sørfjorden’s charm.
Most locations that would rival the grandeur of this place are touristed, their landscapes obscured by massive hotels, the foliage replaced with parking lots and the quiet replaced by the sound of cars and the stars obscured by light pollution.
In Sørfjorden, when I climbed to the top of a hill to watch the stars, I could see a few lights from neighboring houses, but it was quiet. In the hush, my ears picked up the sea in the distance, the wind in the trees and my own breath in the stillness.
I had been here a week, when all of a sudden the peace and quiet got kinda lively, in the way that only small communities can spice things up.
Being that it was so near to Easter, there were a lot of people in town who wouldn’t normally be around. And because of that, exciting events started popping up.
For example, the café that had been closed all winter opened on a Tuesday afternoon for about four hours. The neighbors stopped by to let us know. Should we go? Yes! And we would be bringing my friend Karl’s aunts as well.
The Norwegians referred to the event simply as Kafe. The next day we all piled into the car to go less than a mile down the road to one of the better events I have attended this year – and it didn’t require wearing high heels or using fancy table manners!
Kafe, it turns out, is much like coffee hour at church. When we walked in, there were seven tables set up and a buffet of coffee and cakes. Everyone knew everyone else; except me. And being American and only speaking English, this could have been incredibly awkward. But it wasn’t, it was awesome! I got to be like the exciting new guest. Like a celebrity that shows up at your awkward work cake party.
I chatted in English to those who spoke it and ate waffles with those who didn’t. I felt like I belonged too. Some of the people there had even read my previous blog post on Finding the Familiar in Northern Norway.
I blushed about 15 shades of red. Jesus Christ, now they’ll know all my weird stuff. I guess that’s what I get for putting it on the internet.
Karl’s aunts reminded me of the women my own sister and I always aspire to be. I had met them several times over the last week and the amount of fun and hijinks they got up to rivaled me and my own sister. They were laughing mischievously and constantly cracking each other up. I couldn’t understand them by words but I felt like I understood them by meaning.
I wished I knew Norwegian so I could laugh with them.
After I ate a substantial amount of waffles, coffee and cake. Then we migrated over to the grocery store known simply as Butikk and commenced with the merriment. It’s one of those stores where there has to be a little of everything. There were knitted socks and candle holders and fishing lures alongside produce and canned goods all in one room. People roamed around visiting and I was suggested a few beers to try by the aunts.
They couldn’t understand me by words but they seemed to get me.
As if this were not enough excitement, the next day, a Thursday, there would be church. I had grown up attending a Lutheran church and out of interest I wanted to see how a Norwegian church service compared to an American Lutheran church service.
The last time I had been in church the pastor had scolded me for only attending when there was a funeral. In my defense, there have been a lot funerals the last few years. So it seemed like a good opportunity to step foot in a church without having to give a eulogy.
To add to that intrigue, I was also told I would get to see the Holy Spirit there. I had been hearing about the Holy Spirit for years but had yet to see it.
It turns out, the Norwegian word for Holy Spirit and the Norwegian word for stove are similar. As a child, Karl had thought that when the Holy Spirit was mentioned, they were referring to the big black stove in the front of the church.
To a kid, I suppose the holy spirit being a stove seems about as logical as metaphorically eating the body of your savior at communion.
In fact, as an adult it kinda makes sense too.
Despite not being able to understand a word of the hymns or sermon, it was almost the exact same as my hometown church services. In fact, I think they sang the same hymns! The words were just in another language but the tune was the same! It’s like all the Lutheran ministers got together and said, “Yes, this is our jam!” and kept it that way in service after service for 300 years.
The one, distinct difference was that rather than passing the offering plate around, you had to get up and put the money in a plate at the altar. This one gesture to me, illustrates the real difference between Norwegians and Americans. If you want Americans to donate money, you have to make it easy. We only get out of our seats and walk to the altar if there is a snack (AKA communion) waiting for us. If we had to walk all the way up to the altar to give our money away, we would probably protest with a lack of generosity that would be detrimental to the church.
After the service I went to see the holy spirit and then had cake, lefse and coffee with everyone else. True, I really need to be able to speak Norwegian to spend much time here, but to meet the Holy Spirit and enjoy cake and coffee with Norwegians, you don’t need to know much of any language.
It just is what it is.
We all trailed back to the cabins surrounding the fjords in the quiet of the snow, full of cake, coffee, and the peace that came from either the stove or the Holy Spirit. It’s hard to say which.
And that’s the beauty of Sørfjorden.