Visiting A Country in Troubled Times

It’s the end of my first full day in Greece, and I’m tired and sweaty, but happy.  I know that many of you are wondering what it’s like for me to be here when the banks are closed and the country’s exit from the Eurozone is under consideration, so I thought I’d speak to that right away.

A lovely but empty restaurant in central Athens

A lovely but empty restaurant in central Athens

I have traveled miles across Athens today, in public transportation, in taxis, and by walking.  Frankly, other than one obvious change, things look exactly like they did when I was last here, in May 2014.  That one change is lines at cash machines — since credit cards don’t work right now and the banks are closed, every Greek citizen must go to cash machines to draw out paper money.  Most go every day, since they can only collect 60 euro (just over $60) a day.

This has put a tremendous hardship on everyone, from the bottom of the heap to the top.  People can’t pay their bills, can’t travel, can’t perform everyday business.  And, as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s keeping people out of places where they might spend their discretionary income: restaurants, most shops, and so on.  I ate dinner last night in a very nice restaurant near Omonia Square, a public square that teems with people — but I was the only paying customer in the place.  It was awkward, but I figured they were glad for me to be there.

OK, OK, here's your food pic.  Jeez.  And yes, I *did* over-order a little.

OK, OK, here’s your food pic. Jeez. And yes, I *did* over-order a little.

I haven’t seen any demonstrations or any unusual activity.  Public transportation is free while the banks are closed (a very nice idea, in my opinion), and buses and trains are full of people, but the feeling is calm and ordinary.  And the people are just as friendly and helpful as I remember from last year.

I spoke with several people today.  The one word that I think encompasses how they are all feeling is: tired.  They are tired of uncertainty, and the inability to take charge of their own lives.  They feel that things are happening *to* them, and all they can do is wait to see what others (the banks, their own government, the EU) decide to do next.  They have been waiting for a long time — one person told me, since 2008.  And the current governmental coalition is led by a party that was elected by only 35% of the vote in last year’s election, so many, many people feel that their voices are not being heard.

The main reason I’m in Greece right now is to meet with members of cooperative organizations, who have come together to build businesses that can support themselves, and solve economic and social problems in creative ways.  Today I learned that even starting such an organization can be very difficult in Greece because of bureaucratic and financial obstacles.  The ability of frustrated, tired people to move forward toward their goals in spite of these roadblocks is impressive.  I’ll write more about these groups as I get to know them better.

In the meantime, I want to reassure anyone who is concerned, that I feel safe in Athens; safe enough to get my work done (and have a little bit of fun).  But I’m still being careful and aware.  Athens is, after all, a huge, cosmopolitan city.  But that’s part of what’s so great about it!

Luxury!  Athens traffic from the back seat of a taxi.

Luxury! Athens traffic from the back seat of a taxi.

Q:What the heck are those things? A: Halva (def: sweet, as in a confectionery delight).  Think creamy, grainy. sweet goo with almonds. Um, it's better than that sounds.  And it really was as big as it looks!

Q:What the heck are those things?
A: Halva (def: sweet, as in a confectionery delight). Think creamy, grainy, sweet goo with almonds.
Um, it’s better than that sounds. And they really were as big as they look!

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And so we begin.

Looks a little forlorn, doesn't it?

Looks a little forlorn, doesn’t it?

OK, the trip has begun!  I’m at the Lincoln airport waiting to board my first flight of three.  With any luck I’ll be in Athens in about 19 hours.

I decided to repeat my packing style from last year, hence the pic above.  Gary tweeted a picture of my carry-on size suitcase before we loaded it into the car, as proof of my amazing packing abilities.  We’ll see how well I chose the items I packed!

Returning to Greece

The hills outside of Heraklion

The hills outside of Heraklion

Hooray!  I’m going back to Greece!

I’ll leave next Monday, July 6, and spend about two weeks in Athens and on Crete, mostly on my own.  I’m returning to gather more information prior to beginning my dissertation research.  And yes, I picked a somewhat unfortunate time to go, with the whole economic situation in Greece right now.  But I’m up for a little adventure, and not too worried.  I’ll be blogging this trip like I did last year’s, so stay tuned for more!

If you go back far enough, we’re all family.

Today (May 30) was very special.  Gary and I got to spend the day with my “cousin,” Hans.

Here's Hans, standing in front of the home he was born in and still lives in today.

Here’s Hans, standing in front of the home he was born in and still lives in today.

Hans’ ancestor Anne was a sister to my ancestor Anders, who left Norway in 1869 for Nebraska.

I come from the Anders branch; Hans from the Anne branch.

I come from the Anders branch; Hans from the Anne branch.

Hans attended our biennial Knudson family reunion in Wahoo, Nebraska in 2008.  A couple of our U.S. family members have been lucky enough to get to visit Hans in Norway since then, and this time, it was my turn.

It turns out that my ancestral land, Nord-Odal, is only a short train ride from Oslo.  Gary and I took the train to Oslo from Ås, and then transferred to the train to Skarnes, the closest station to Nord-Odal.

We spent a lot of our time in Norway coming to or going from train stations!

We spent a lot of our time in Norway coming to or going from train stations!

Hans was a fantastic and gracious host.  He had planned a whole day for us, beginning with a stop at the perfect place to buy souvenirs: a superb handicraft store run by some local retired folks.  We bought hand-knitted socks and mittens and hand-woven decorative cloths, which we much preferred to what we could have found in Oslo!

Skarnes is in Sud Odal, just south of where my ancestors lived. It's a nice little town, with a superb handicraft store run by some local retired folks.

Skarnes is in Sor Odal, just south of where my ancestors lived. It’s a nice little town, right on the train line, which makes it perfect for commuting into Oslo.

Then we crossed into Nord Odal to visit a living history museum called Odalstunet.  Because Hans helped create the museum and still volunteers there, we got a personal tour!  Some of the buildings were especially special to me:

This was Hans' grandmother's house, which was moved from its original site to the museum grounds.

This was Hans’ grandmother’s house, which was moved from its original site to the museum grounds.

Here's a small house like the one that my ancestors, who were tenant farmers, might have lived.

Here’s a small house like the one that my ancestor Knudsons, who were tenant farmers, might have lived in.

 

Sometimes one room is all you have!  Hans said that people slept sitting up in those tiny beds -- and often shared them with two or three other people.

Sometimes one room is all you have! Hans said that people slept sitting up in those tiny beds — and often shared them with two or three other folks.

These looms are used to make decorative cloth like the ones we bought in the handicraft shop in Skarnes.  The threads were very fine.  It was wonderful to be able to see both in-progress and finished work.

These looms are used to make decorative cloth like the ones we bought in the handicraft shop in Skarnes. The threads were very fine. It was wonderful to be able to see both in-progress and finished work.

Afterwards, Hans drove us to a nearby lakeside restaurant in the tiny town of Sand and treated us to lunch.  Milepelen is also owned and operated by local retired people, women in this case, who have made into a local highlight.

Tablecloth?  Real flowers?  Hans treated us very well.

Tablecloth? Real flowers? Hans treated us very well.

My view kept distracting me from my food ...

My view kept distracting me from my food …

Of course, I was too busy eating and looking out over the water to remember to take a picture of my lunch!  Surprisingly to us, the menu offered lots of beef and chicken.  I was pleased to able to read “hamburger” — but Hans thought that meant I planned to order one and he objected: “No, no, get something nice!”  I had chicken with a mushroom sauce and it was perfect.

After lunch we continued around the lakeshore to a local church to visit more family.

Newish church, oldish stones.

A small chapel on the church grounds.  Hans told us it is used today for laying out the departed before the funeral.

The resting place of Anne Hoiby, Hans' great grandmother and the sister of Anders, my great great great grandfather.

The resting place of Anne Hoiby, Hans’ great grandmother and the sister of Anders, my great great great grandfather.  In 2008 Hans visited Anders’ grave near Ceresco, Nebraska.  Isn’t life strange?

One thing that Hans, Gary and I talked about was a key difference between Norway and the U.S.: Norway’s state church.  This Lutheran Christian church was established way back in the 1530s, and is still state-funded and controlled, even though Norway’s people tend to be very non-religious.  Hans prefers the U.S.’s separation between church and state, and we could only agree.

Our next stop was a big one: the land where Anders Knudson and his brothers lived and worked before emigrating to America.

Low hills roll down to the lake.

Low hills roll down to the lake.

As tenant farmers, the Knudsons were at a distinct disadvantage from landowners.  Land meant wealth, and even though the family owned horses, a sign that they did well financially, they were always working for someone else.  The prospect of owning land is what persuaded the four Knudson brothers (Anders, Asplund, Gulbrand and Knudt) to leave their home for the unknown wilds of Nebraska.

That lake view, though. I would have been sad to leave.  (p.s., the waters are especially high from spring thaw right now.)

That lake view, though. I would have missed this place on the dry, treeless plains of Nebraska.

The brothers brought their mother, Marit Gulbrandsdatter, with them on their voyage over sea and land, and tragically, she died only months after they arrived in the U.S.  She is buried along the trail in Iowa.  How sad for her, for her sons, and for the daughters she had left in Norway!  But the brothers settled in Lancaster County, Nebraska, and bought land, just as they had hoped they would.

After this amazing visit Hans, a retired forester, suggested we go for a drive in his forest.  Yes, *his* forest: where he hunts moose and tramps around as much as he likes, and where he pays a special yearly fee so he can drive through its roads and tracks.  I told you the Norwegians loved their forests.

I guess Gary and I responded properly to the forest views from the car, because Hans then decided to show us a hidden gem: a traditional “summer farm” tucked into the woods, now owned by the Odalstunet museum.

This photo doesn't even come close to capturing the charm of the summer farm.  Think Heidi ... her grandfather's little house in the mountains.  That's about right.

This photo doesn’t even come close to capturing the charm of the summer farm. Think Heidi … her grandfather’s little house in the mountains. That’s about right.

We were absolutely smitten with the summer farm, which the museum folks had been restoring and will be opening to the public this summer.

We saw wildflowers, and bees, everywhere.  So lovely!

We saw wildflowers, and bees, everywhere. Exactly the way it always looked in my mind when, as a little girl, I read about mountain meadows in old stories!

A summer farm is a place up in the mountains where the cows or goats are brought in the summer to graze, protecting the lower pastures for later grazing and mowing.  Typically one or two men would accompany the animals, living rough in the summer hut.  This summer, cows will return to this beautiful place, and the resulting dairy products will be offered to the public along with tours and interpretation of the area’s history.

Hans' favorite bird, the wagtail.  It's ours now too!  As he said, it's such a friendly little bird, it makes you happy.

Hans’ favorite bird, the wagtail. It’s ours now too! As he said, it’s such a friendly little bird, it makes you happy.

Finally, we ended our day with Hans with a quick visit to his home.

Hans' house is built around a central woodburning fireplace, that heats the whole house.  Hans, like many people in Norway, still chops his own wood.  It keeps him fit, he says!

Hans’ house is built around a central woodburning fireplace, that heats the whole house. Hans, like many people in Norway, still chops his own wood. It keeps him fit, he says!

This is the house Hans grew up in.  When his parents died, they left him the house, and the surrounding land, which is farmed by a neighbor.  It’s a very pleasant place.

The view from Hans' living room -- it'll do!

The view from Hans’ living room — it’ll do!

It was a packed day, and this has been a packed post!  I’ll end with a pic of Hans and me on the land our ancestors farmed on the shore of lake Storsjøen.

Thank you, Hans, for a perfect day!

Cousins.  Thank you, Hans, for a perfect day!

 

 

Blogus …resumiius? …continuous? …pickupwhereileftoffius?

Hello Everyone!

I apologize for the long break in my story.  I am back from Germany, and working diligently on my online course.  But I think I should be able to find a corner of time each day to continue the tale of my travel, so I’m back online and raring to go!

To help ease the transition back into the blog, here’s a completely out-of-context (not to mention out of focus) photo of a goat:

A rare sighting of the legendary Volcano-Hopping Goat of Santorini

A rare sighting of the legendary Volcano-Hopping Goat of Santorini

More to come!  Very soon!

a case of blogus interruptus

Well, folks, you may have noticed that it’s been a few days since my last post.  And it’s going to be at least a few more days before I post again.  I am currently beginning an intensive online summer course while attending a conference in Germany.  Not the best environment for blogging!

I’ll be back as soon as I can … until then …

Shannon

Hei, Norway!

Yesterday (May 28), I traveled from Athens to Ås, Norway — pronounced “ose,” as in “dose” — via Copenhagen and Oslo.  I flew with Skandinavian Airlines (SAS), and was pleased to be more comfortable than I’m used to.  Both in legroom and seat width, it was noticeably and pleasantly roomier than in other airlines’ planes.  Only coffee, tea and water were free; for a few euros I purchased a tasty but probably overpriced lunch.

I was also astonished to find myself sitting next to an empty seat on both flights.  What are the odds???

Proof of empty seat #1

Proof of empty seat #1

 

Proof of empty seat #2

Proof of empty seat #2

Plus, the little screen that hung from the ceiling over my row showed a real-life image of what we were flying over.  It was pretty cool!

Goodbye, Greece!

Goodbye, Greece! p.s. I am excited by small things sometimes.

After two planes, and two trains (one from the airport into Oslo, and one from Oslo to Ås), I found my husband Gary at the train station!  How romantic; just like in the movies.

Our hosts, Barb and Chuck, were there too.  It was nice to see familiar faces.  Chuck spends part of his year teaching and researching in agroecology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in  Ås, and the rest at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Barb, who has become fluent in Norsk over the years, travels with Chuck and knows so much about the Norwegian culture and current events.  What perfect (and generous) hosts for our first stay in Norway!

Gary’s plane had arrived a few hours before mine, and the three of them had walked to the station to meet me.  We all walked back to Chuck and Barb’s house, and I got to know Ås while we caught up with each other’s lives.

The hill coming up to the neighborhood from the train station

The hill coming up from the train station

Lupines - they are everywhere!

Lupines — they are everywhere!

After an early night, we woke up today (May 29) to have a special breakfast with Chuck and Barb and a couple of their friends.  It was a nice way to meet some local people — over waffles and jam.

Afterward a decent digestion interval, Gary and Chuck went running while Barb and I went for a short walk in the nearby forest.

Similar to what we’ve experienced in the UK, Norwegian law supports the “freedom to roam,” or the right for anyone to travel through rural land that is not cultivated.  Norwegians are very fond and proud of their forests, mountains and coastal areas, and use them for recreation all year round.  People are of course expected to take good care of the places where they walk, ski or swim, and it shows; we saw no litter or other signs of humans anywhere during our forest walk.  What a wonderful place to have right on the edge of town.  We clambered over rocks and had a great time.

Different from Greece!

Perfect weather, which the locals aren't sure how to interpret.  Maybe I brought it with me from Greece?

Perfect weather, which the locals aren’t sure how to interpret. Maybe I brought it with me from Greece?

We ended the day with dinner of Norwegian salmon and fresh vegetables.  We are being spoiled!  I’m glad to be with Gary and our friends, and glad to be in Norway.