Dear Mom and Dad,
I am in Stamsund, on the Lofoten Islands on the East coast of Norway. The youth hostel here is run by Roar Justad, a very nice guy. I am alone. Roar comes once a day to say hello and fix some things. I feel quite content here. It's not too cold. The sun tried to rise today but didn't make it. Tonight I saw the northern lights. Better than in Iceland. They stretched all the way across the sky moving, changing, playing.
For heat and cooking there is a wood stove that I feed with wood and coal. I just split some more wood and will set it in the oven to dry.
This must be something like how our ancestors lived before they immigrated to the United States. Of course, their life was more difficult - no electric lights, no grocery store down the street, ... - but this is closer than life in Oslo today, or Tromsø. I went to Tromsø and was surprised to see a very big city - about 40,000 people! I saw a city bus with “Route 30” on the front, and taxis, and plenty of cars. My expectations were very different. I thought that being so far north the only people there would be a few rugged individualists. I knew there was a university there but I thought just a small one. Well, I was wrong.
I was wandering around Tromsø looking for Storgata street where the least expensive hotel was, when someone asked me a question in Norwegian. I said, “I speak only English.” A young woman ~25 said, “I asked if you were a tourist.” We exchanged circumstances. She had come on the Hurtigruten (speedy route coastal ferry) to Tromsø because she had slept through her stop at Harstad. It was about 6:30 p.m. and the Hurtigruten back to Harstad would leave at 1:30 a.m. and come at 11:30 p.m. I suggested that we have dinner. And so we had a pleasant evening.
Her name is Nin [neen]. She was on her way home for Christmas in Skellefthamn, Sweden. She lives in Stamsund, Norway, works at the fish factory and is an artist. On the Hurtigruten she was so taken by the sunset/rise that she made many watercolor sketches of them. I told her about my “homemade postcards” done in colored pencils, that I am not an artist but enjoyed doing them. We exchanged addresses and she asked me to send her one of my postcards. I told her about my disillusionment with Tromsø and she understood. She told me about the youth hostel in Stamsund where she stayed for many months. I decided right then to leave Tromsø 2 hours after I had arrived and take the Hurtigruten south with her and go to Stamsund for several days before going to Kongsberg for Christmas. I felt very happy, a kind of exhilaration, a giddiness - to change plans so quickly. She was happy for me.
On the ship that night we met another young woman, Robin, from Boston, studying in Sweden and Norway. Four older men (45-60) travelling on business were somewhat drunk when we left Tromsø and were rather charmed by Robin and Nin. One of them, Karl Hansen, bought food for everyone and we all stayed up until 4:00 in the morning jabbering about everything and nothing in English and Norwegian. Many (but not all) Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, ... speak English. They learn it like Americans learn to bowl or play golf. The younger ones take it (they have to) for 8 years in school and most of their TV, music, and movies are in English with subtitles. I feel somewhat badly that they have put so much effort into overcoming the language barrier and me none.
Nin and I said goodbye at Harstad and we went our way. My second day at Stamsund I made a postcard for Nin and yesterday I made one for Lisa from W. Germany who I met in Iceland and whom I'm going to visit after the New Year. Tomorrow I'm travelling to a town named Å pronounced [oh] and then on to Kongsberg.
I am learning a lot, making some good friends, and ... having quite a time!
... it was so clear I hoped for northern lights. Meal of potatoes, cheese, carrots, hazelnuts. Wrote postcards. Boy and girl came - took shower. I left them alone. Except to follow. Bought some food. At stores now open? On the way back saw northern lights. Great. Watched a while. Was charmed by the Big Dipper being underneath them. No moon. They kept getting better. I went in, put food away. Better clothes. Came back. Watched for 10 minutes, sore neck. They stretched all the way across the sky. Went to get bench to lay on. Better. Different bands - 9 in all. Fantastic, stupendous - as was said in Let's Go Europe. Sometimes transparent, sometimes intense white. Usually a great circle, sometimes perpendicular. So good. Moving, reforming, awe inspiring. Electric speed motion, like wind blowing a cloud apart. Enough. I came in. Little desire to see more. I had peaked. A peak experience. Anything else could only diminish the experience. Wrote postcards telling about it.
Later ~10:30 Roar came to say hello and left. He returned and called to me. Colors! Red, real green, moving in line | | | | | | | | | I was speechless. He left saying, “Now you've seen the real northern lights.” He said rarely are the colors so strong. 5 minutes later they came again. Not in line but swirling around in a spiral. Directly overhead was Orion.
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