This is a story about what happens when one (and by one, I mean I…) ignores all the best advice one has gathered and given over the years about traveling with kids, and instead drags three jet-lagged, soft, weak American children through the Norwegian suburbs to a place called Troldhaugen, a monument to the vaunted classical composer Edvard Grieg.
Do I regret it? Why, of course, but now my four-year-old knows how to hitchhike…so there’s that.
I mean, I don’t regret seeing the Edvard Grieg Museum, even if only for ten minutes. I am the only person remotely interested in classical music in my household, except for a curious obsession my eldest son has had with “In the Hall of the Mountain King” since it was featured in a Mickey Mouse Halloween Special he watched when he was four-years-old.
When I found out the composer of literally the only piece of classical music any of my kids can name is from Bergen, Norway, it seemed obvious that we must visit Troldhaugen, his former home-turned-museum during our 40 hours in Bergen. Maybe this was all my little dumplings needed to spur a sudden love of classical music and desire to join a symphony, right? (Don’t roll your eyes at me, friends. My fantasies are all I have!)
A better parent and better travel planner would have made all this happen smoothly, without tears or the possibility of dying of starvation in the Norwegian countryside (I’m not sure that’s happened to anyone since the Vikings, but I digress.)
Unfortunately, that’s not who was running this ship.
It all began at 4 a.m. in the bright sunlight of a Norwegian July day, which is when my jet-lagged kids woke up, despite the melatonin gummies I had forced down their throats a few hours earlier. We had arrived in Norway the previous afternoon, and we only had one full day in the lovely town of Bergen. I was determined to make the most of it.
Mistake #1: Having an Agenda
The kind folks at the Bergen tourist board had provided us with Bergen cards, which include free public transportation and free or discounted entrance to most of Bergen’s many tourist attractions. I wanted to use these cards as much as possible. Because free!
The morning went well – we went in search of pastries and coffee and made friends with the guy at the 7-Eleven. Norwegian 7-Elevens sell not only pastries and coffee, but also hot dogs and soda, meaning it would save our lives more than once during European vacation. (Spoiler alert: there is no 7-Eleven near Troldhaugen).
Waking up so early meant we were first in line for the funicular that took us up to the top of Mount Floyen. This popular Bergen attraction did not disappoint, and we spent the morning up there, exploring the playground and hunting trolls. The kids started getting pretty cranky around 11 a.m. so we headed back down the mountain, found lunch, and walked them back to our Airbnb, where we all fell into a deep, deep jet-laggy sleep.
Mistake #2: Not Setting an Alarm Clock
Did I think I would sleep for over four hours? No. If so, I’m sure I would have set an alarm clock. We woke up at 4 p.m., extremely groggy, to find that my afternoon plans had been dashed. I really wanted to make it to at least one museum that afternoon, but all the nearby museums closed at 4 p.m.
At which point, my husband says, “Look! Troldhaugen doesn’t close until 6 p.m. We can make it.”
Me: “Um, are you sure?” I was still quite groggy. “This brochure says it’s like a 20-minute tram ride and a 20-minute walk. They say just follow the signs from the light rail station.”
My husband: “Let’s go, but we have to go right now! Kids, OUT THE DOOR!”
Mistake #3: Listening To My Husband
My husband won’t like this accusation of fault, but he isn’t my editor, and this is the Internet. He can write his own rebuttal later.
We had Wi-Fi at our Airbnb. How hard would it have been to go to Rome2Rio and get exact directions to Troldhaugen? Or maybe, say, pack snacks? It wouldn’t have been hard at all, but instead we ran out of that house as fast as possible, which isn’t very fast when you have our three boys. Just getting all their shoes on can take 20 minutes.
I never go anywhere without a water bottle, but I didn’t bother with food. We weren’t packing for an all-day trip, and I had read that there was a cafe at Troldhaugen. Also, remember, I WAS STILL HALF ASLEEP AT THIS POINT.
We walked to the light rail station, which itself was probably at least half a mile from our Airbnb. Taking the light rail was a breeze, and pretty fun.
The Norwegian suburbs rolled past the the train windows. And time rolled by, too. But I didn’t watch the time, because what’s the point? You can’t hurry my family, or a train. Best to just be patient.
We arrived at our stop, called “Hop.” (There’s a joke here, I’m sure.) Clearly we were in the middle of suburbia. A few cars drove by. No people. None of my pamphlets gave directions to the museum, but after scanning the platform we finally saw a sign for “Troldhaugen,” with an arrow pointing down the road.
My kids: “Wait…how far is this walk again?”
Me (confidently): “This paper says 20 minutes..” At this point I get a deep, ugly feeling in the pit of my belly, as I know perfectly well that I should double the estimated travel time to any destination when traveling with my family.
We start walking.
Mistake #4: Not Turning on Our Smartphones
I have no defense for this. We are idiots. Months before our trip, I said to my husband, “We need to get our phones unlocked so we can buy a local SIM card when we get to Europe and use our phones like all other normal human beings.”
My husband argued we should just pay the $10/day international rate through AT&T. I argued that they charge extra for data. We are both techno-dummies and didn’t have the time or energy to research and resolve this dilemma, so we just flew to Norway and tried to use our phones as little as possible.
Simple, 21st century technology could have told me that we were 1.2 miles from our destination. That means a twenty minute walk for an adult, but not for my children. Not far, but if we are being honest, probably farther than my soft suburban kids have walked without stopping in, like…ever.
Would it have helped if we had mapped this out? I’m a little worried that might have stopped my eldest child in his tracks completely, although it would have helped me to know if we were getting close to our destination.
Instead, we persisted. The first half mile was pleasant as we ambled down a sidewalk sandwiched between a shiny blue lake and a busy road. I had a few Hi-Chews at the bottom of my daypack that I distributed when the kids started to complain of hunger.
Then Todd whispered, “It’s 5:25. It closes at 6. We’re never going to make it.”
We tried to hurry the kids along. We raced. We bribed. They complained.
Then we reached A HILL.
Now they were really complaining. I carried my 50 pound four-year-old until I couldn’t anymore. My husband did the same for our same-sized seven-year-old.
“Look!” I said at the top of the hill. “A parking lot and a sign! That must be it!”
But, no. We trudged along an adorable tree-lined lane that we were completely incapable of appreciating until we reached it, the object of our desires, the shining city on a hill, the place we had been dreaming of for at least 90 minutes at this point: TROLDHAUGEN. Relieved, we ran eagerly toward the giant photo of Edvard Grieg draped over one side of the Edvard Grieg Museum.
It was 5:50 p.m.
The kind and silently judgmental young man at the front desk pointed out that they closed in 10 minutes (and in Norway, when they say 10 minutes, they mean 10 minutes.) He recommended we rush over to the house, which Edvard Grieg’s widow Nina made in to a museum in 1928 and has been perfectly preserved since then. We paid the very reasonable admission price — kids are free, and it’s 50 percent off with the Bergen card — and ran over there.
My nine-year-old, the child for whom I planned this journey, was now so angry about the forced death march through the idyllic Norwegian countryside on a 75-degree summer day that he sat down outside the house and refused to enter. (He did eventually walk through the house…I guess his curiosity got the best of him. But he made sure we knew he was not happy about it.)
The house was impressive. The docents were young, passionate about Grieg, and knowledgeable. It would have been lovely to spend all day there. But remember how our kids were starving? AND THE CAFE WAS CLOSING!
Mistake #5: Not Packing a Million Snack Bars
This was only the first of many times I would have this regret on this trip. After a five-minute speed walk through the Grieg house, we ran back to the cafe.
It was closing. The clerk had already closed her till, but said we could still purchase ice cream bars at the front desk, which we did.
My husband took a quick tour of the Grieg exhibition adjacent to the front desk and I made everyone use the toilets before the doors were locked. Then we sat abandoned, forlorn. Five sad, jet-lagged Americans eating ice cream on patio chairs on the grounds of the home of one of the world’s most famous composers. (You’re playing a tiny violin for me right about now, aren’t you? That’s okay. Keep playing.)
Mistake #6: Not Asking for Help
We could have asked the kind-yet-silently-judgmental clerk to call a taxi to take us back to the train station.
We did not.
I suspect this was due to deep embarrassment and an unwillingness to admit that our family was incapable of a one-mile walk back to the train station.
If times were desperate, we could have also asked the pair of other tourists, in their hiking gear and backpacks, if they would take one of us and a couple of kids back to the train station in their rental car…pretty please.
Again, this would have required a level of humility my husband and I lack.
Instead, unwilling to face the trek home, we tried to walk down to the “Composer’s Hut,” the little red house where Grieg wrote some of his most famous compositions overlooking the water. Three-fifths of us made it; my youngest scraped both his knees on the way down and I spent a few minutes doctoring him then carrying him back up.
Then my other boys got in a fight, and one of them skinned his knees, too, and I used up more Band-Aids, and we decided we better try and walk back to the train before the ice-cream wore off and the hunger REALLY set in.
Mistake #6: Giving Up
At this point, we were all hungry. It was 4 a.m. our time. We were the teensiest bit delirious. I thought the walk back would be easier, because it was downhill, and at least we knew where we were going.
Getting down the hill was fine, but the last 0.75 miles was brutal.
My nine-year-old decided to hitchhike. Where did he learn to hitchhike? I have no idea. (I blame “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) I half-heartedly tried to stop him.
I did try and explain the futility of trying to get a driver speeding by on a suburban highway to pick up a pack of five tourists, but the logic was lost on him.
When no one stopped, he decided his four-year-old brother had greater curb appeal. When I protested, my darling children laughed louder.
At one point, I gave up trying to stop them, because kids that are jostling each other to stick their thumbs out at passing drivers are kids that are not whining. As long as they kept walking, I didn’t care what they did.
The real problem came when we finally made it back to the Hop train station (HALLELUJAH) and my four-year-old decided to try and hitchhike for the train, which involved standing perilously close to the tracks.
DANGER WILL ROBINSON! DANGER! Fortunately, even my nine-year-old agreed that crossed the line. Literally.
Mistake #7: Not Paying Attention to My Surroundings
In case you are becoming concerned for our safety, I’ll have you know that we did, in fact, make it back to Bergen, and by the time we got there, we were all miraculously feeling better. We were stunned to find a statue of our man Grieg in Bergen, right behind the light rail stop, in the middle of a flower-edged grassy park, where lovers picnicked at his feet.
My husband and I looked at each other. Sure, we could have actually done our research, and just taken a photo with a statue and saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble. But then what kind of story would we have to tell? We located a restaurant for our ravenous family and a fountain made for splashing, and our evening was the type of European summer loveliness that travel ads are made of.
In conclusion, despite our disaster, you and your well-mannered family of travel planners should definitely visit the Edvard Grieg Museum at Troldhaugen outside Bergen, Norway.
You really should. It’s a beautiful place. You should plan ahead and spend all day there. Probably you should pack a picnic to eat on the lovely grounds, and maybe take in a summer lunchtime concert.
If you, too, are unable to walk 1.2 miles from a train station, there is a tourist bus that will take you to Troldhaugen. I highly recommend it.
Learn from me, friends. Feel my pain, make it part of your lives, and don’t do what we did. Do some research!