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The Travel Episodes

Parental Leave in Norway

Ultimate Freedom

Artis and Renate spend their paren­tal leave with their son in Norway. In their Volks­wa­gen T4, also called Fatty, they set out to find the ulti­mate free­dom.

One hill­top chases anot­her; one heap of rocks resem­bles the next. We trudge through muddy debris. There’s no end in sight. As we’re just over­co­m­ing anot­her hill, the parking lot is still not in sight, only the next hill. We try to keep our little one happy with cookies and singing. But even­tually nothing works anymore. He’s screa­ming at the top of his lungs, but there’s no one there who could feel irri­ta­ted by it. Only his parents, who aren’t feeling irri­ta­ted but rather over­whel­med and forlorn.
His lips have turned blue and his eyes are red from crying. Our boy is cold and is screa­ming his head off. Off into mommy’s arms, his little feet tucked tight under her coat, his father hauling the carrier and the back­pack. The wind is free­zing cold. We sob, pray and hope that we will somehow survive this trip. And then, yet anot­her damn hill! The stur­diest shoewear fails. Again and again, our feet slip on the loose debris. Slowly, we’re losing our strength. But stop­ping is not an alter­na­tive. Even­tually, Matteo’s energy fades as well and he’s only whim­pe­ring.

How could we? 

 

Four Months Earlier

Usually I ride my bike to work. But not today. Today, I am driving our new vehi­cle: a black, well-maintained VW bus which I bought fifth-hand. I present our Fatty. He’s high-gloss polished and well equip­ped. “Would you like to see the inside?”, I proudly ask my co-worker. “No thanks! I can’t stand how busses smell inside!” He rela­tes that his parents drove a T4 for years and that the smell doesn’t agree with him. Trau­ma­tic child­hood memo­ries.

But those aren’t meant to be for our son Matteo: for two or three months, this car will become our new home. We’re almost ready to rock and roll. The three of us want to go to Norway in our T4 and spend our paren­tal leave there toge­ther.

* * *

Second Chapter

Grit Your Teeth

We expe­ri­ence the coldest and hardest spring in Norway. The weather is acting up and we are stuck inside our car. 

May 1st

Some­where in Denmark, we spend the first night in our bus in a rest area. In the morning, the ther­mo­me­ter reads a snug 3 degrees Celsius. The sleeping-place under the roof for the three of us is smal­ler than we expec­ted. It would have been better if we had tested it before our trip. But there’s no time to lament. The ferry is waiting for us. We will tackle the space problem in the follo­wing days. After all, we’ve got plenty of time to do that. And certainly it’s going to get warmer! Too bad that just now the auxi­liary heating isn’t working…
 
 
Skizze_aus_dem_Tagebuch2
 

May 6th

A bit of drift­wood near the fjord is the solu­tion to our space problem. It now serves as a slat­ted frame and is set up every evening in the small entrance area of our slee­ping quar­ter. Now, the lad can slum­ber sweetly. But still the nights are so-so. Matteo’s unrest­ful sleep makes us worried. The days are rainy, the nights are chilly. We keep oursel­ves happy with an exten­ded break­fast.

Scram­bled eggs or boiled eggs? This ques­tion is an important topic of discus­sion every morning. We are substi­tu­ting egg for meat because meat in Norway is just too expen­sive for us. But after Matteo gets a hold of the carton of eggs, the ques­tion of boiled or scram­bled eggs has become super­fluous.

We are living in a tight space with a baby who is just learning how to walk while it’s snowing outside.

 

May 22nd

Suddenly it gets dark. A dark blue, almost black mass comes rolling our way. Just a moment ago it was still visi­ble in the distance, and now it’s right in front of us. We look at each other. And then it’s alre­ady lashing out at us. 

The storm says hello. 

We pull Fatty’s door shut and wait to see what happens. 

The bus is shaking. With a drum roll, hailstones the size of a marble pound against the sleeping-roof. Again and again, the wind keeps tearing at the roof as if wanting to test its construc­tion.

We are over­come by unea­si­ness. One look up: our little one is doing great! While the storm is rolling over the coast, he is slee­ping like a lamb, taking his nap under the roof.
Labor-like, the bad weather comes and goes. Time and again, heavy rain­falls move across from the sea. 

Once again, we are stuck inside our bus. In good weather, we had wanted to explore the road along the coast. But now we have to kill time. Play, eat, play and eat… “Tomor­row, the weather’s suppo­sed to get better, so we could get on the road again,” I announce. At least accord­ing to the weather app. It’s now 1 P.M. Time for lunch. 

At night, we once again ask oursel­ves: was it a good deci­sion to park that close to the coast? Maybe we should have chosen the spot that was a bit furt­her up? 

Matteo has been sound asleep since 8 P.M. We can’t think of sleep. It feels as if at any given moment Fatty might get knocked over by the wind. And then there’s this thought that races through my head again

“What if the roof suddenly gets ripped off?”

We don’t get a wink of sleep. The worst scen­a­rios play in our heads. The 3 degrees Celsius feel like -10 and the wind is brutal.

Quickly, I decide to fold down the back seat and pull in the roof. Renate holds our child tight in her arms, “If we fly away then at least we’ll fly toge­ther.”
Slee­ping below seems harder than expec­ted. Where should we put all our boxes and stuff? Out into the storm?

So I quickly dismiss my idea and climb back under the roof, which is still being thoroughly shaken by the wind. “We’ll stay up here!”, I whis­per to Renate. Grit your teeth. 

 

* * *

Third Chapter

On Short Legs

In Norway, I enjoy a privi­lege: I have time for my family and myself. I can watch my son grow up. Thanks to paren­tal leave. 

We return to our car from a hike. While Renate is unlocking the car and taking off her hiking shoes, I set down the back­pack carrier, inclu­ding the baby. The little rascal is exci­ted about his free­dom and sque­aling with joy. But he also loves the carrier. After I’ve masterly taken him out, I put Matteo on his feet. Something’s diffe­rent, I think to myself, and start coun­ting in my head. One second, two seconds, three… He anti­ci­pa­tes my exci­te­ment and, uncer­tain, falls back on his padded bottom. 

“Did you see that?” I call eupho­ri­cally. “He stood all by hims­elf, for at least one minute!” Renate doesn’t quite believe me. I swear that it was really a whole minute. At least it felt like that! It was a moment that made me feel like the happiest and prou­dest daddy on earth!

We are often asked the follo­wing ques­tion: what do you do all day long when you’re out and about? It’s pretty simple: we’re out and about. Ever­y­day, our little man brings us such joy. Our days are very simply struc­tu­red. We get up early, eat break­fast, wash and then we’re out and about, until it’s time to find a nice sleeping-place some­time in the evening. And that’s not hard in Norway – one dream sleeping-place follows the next. 

* * *

Fourth Chapter

Top Destination

On this morning, we don’t need an alarm. The sun gently cares­ses the slee­ping roof and the family under­ne­ath slowly starts to sweat. Let’s get out of here! An exci­ting day is waiting for us!

We enjoy our break­fast on a picnic blan­ket and then wash the sleep out of our eyes in the river. Our desti­na­tion today: the North Cape! It’s the nort­hern­most point in Europe that’s acces­si­ble by car. We are a good 3,000 kilo­me­ters from home. 

As usual, we take a short break enroute. Fatty’s door opens and Matteo points his small middle finger into the distance. It’s about time he learns to use his poin­ter instead, I think. But at this moment, nothing else matters. The diaper boy is so happy he’s jumping for joy. He’s disco­ve­red a herd of grazing rein­deer.

The North Cape

End of the line. I talk to the guy in the porter’s lodge. Behind the bar, the iron globe hides on a massive hill, surroun­ded by a thick cloud. A globe. For which they charge 30 € per person. Babies are free. “Many thanks,” I poli­tely decline. And return to Fatty. Too bad the gate is perman­ently manned and one can’t even get in for a short time at an afford­a­ble price. And, this isn’t even the nort­hern­most point. A freshly tarred broad road that even­tually beco­mes a dead end. And at some point, some­body deci­ded that this was now the nort­hern­most point of Europe.

But, the true North Cape does exist! And that requi­res a lot.

7 kilo­me­ters away from the wrong North Cape, we reach the parking lot. 

We check the time. It’s 4 P.M. and the sun has long gone into hiding. Our bags are packed; we are warmly dres­sed and fully moti­va­ted! We are not impres­sed by the approa­ching low hanging clouds. An old infor­ma­tion board at the parking lot points out that the route is 18 kilo­me­ters long. We can do that!

 
 
Das_Ziel_aller_Ziele
 
 
Matteo’s suppo­sed to sleep, but he doesn’t keep quiet – as if he alre­ady had a sense of forebo­ding. Only after a good deal of snacks and singing children’s songs non-stop, does he finally shut his eyes, being gently rocked to and fro in the carrier. We’ve made a quar­ter of the route. The easiest quar­ter.

Eupho­ri­cally, we conti­nue our hike, make films, take pictures, feel exci­ted about the desti­na­tion of all desti­na­ti­ons. 2,100 km furt­her north is alre­ady the North Pole. Almost within one’s grasp. After two and a half hours of hiking we see the open sea before us. “It doesn’t go any furt­her, guess we’re here!” we naively think. But the track doesn’t end here. It’s getting cooler. 

To our right, we can see the slate cliffs protru­ding from the sea, embraced by a thick cloud. But where is the real North Cape hiding? The cold is slowly cree­ping into our clothes. Go back or move on? In this rugged soli­tude, there is no one about who could make that deci­sion for us. 

 
 
Triste_Landschaft
 
 
The little one is still slee­ping and we let our pride make the deci­sion. We hike anot­her full hour along the rough and rugged coast going north. An icy wind is blowing our way. 

Then, finally, the long-desired nort­hern­most point. What a moment! We are actually stan­ding at Europe’s nort­hern­most point and make plans when might be a good time to travel to Europe’s southern­most point. We’re happy; we goof around, dance and screech eupho­ri­cally. We’ve made it! Too eupho­ri­cally. The baby wakes up. Oops. For now, he’s still in a good mood, but we know from expe­ri­ence: hunger and cold can change that imme­dia­tely. So, better get moving! We must start our way back! 

At breakneck speed we head back. The baby is happy. Every time the carrier jolts it means action!

The father sing’s the child’s prai­ses. Soon after, it’s all over: Little Bigfoot is screa­ming at the top of his lungs. Break! We take out our little one from the carrier, provide body warmth, cookies and snuggling. His cheeks are red, his little hands and feet ice-cold, despite the wool. We start to feel guilty. 

Despite his screa­ming, we put him back into the carrier and head towards the parking lot. A thick soup of low hanging clouds is approa­ching and has now also closely enve­lo­ped us.

We orien­tate oursel­ves by the piles of rocks that hikers have erec­ted over time.

Dear Reader, you know what’s coming now: we’ve arri­ved at the begin­ning of our story. At the lips turned blue, at the eyes red from crying, and all the damn hills that never want to make room for a view of our desti­na­tion. The parking lot with our home. Did we get lost?

How could we! The tarred place and the company of other tourists would have done it, too. 

60 Euros!? What’s 60 Euros?

Then finally: our Fatty! We’re a good 500 meters away from him. “We’re almost there!” is how we encou­rage each other. Our little one has fallen asleep from exhaus­tion.
We start to drive, take off our son’s clothes – follo­wed by body warmth, a hot water bottle, cuddling, kissing. Our bad consci­ence is almost killing us. These are excep­tio­nal circum­s­tan­ces for all of us. The ther­mo­me­ter reads 5 degrees Celsius. 

It’s the first time that we are some­what haun­ted by senten­ces such as “Do you really think you can do that with a baby?” and “That’s pretty bold, or actually irre­spon­si­ble!” Tonight, we won’t open a bottle of cham­pa­gne or some­thing simi­lar to raise our glas­ses in a toast to the North Cape as the tradi­tion might require. We just hold each other and cry for joy. We made it. This could have also gone differ­ently. In a reflec­tive mood and physi­cally exhausted we fall into a rest­less sleep.

 
 
Nebel
 
 
The next morning our boy wakes us up with joyful laugh­ter, pulling at our hair and noses. He doesn’t seem to remem­ber anything. We observe him over-watchfully, still feeling bad. But nothing – he’s his old self. Not even a runny nose!

We are more grate­ful than ever. Over a strong cup of coffee and scram­bled eggs we recall what happened the day before – unfor­gett­able!

 

* * *

Fifth Chapter

Happy Birthday

Our child is turning one, and has alre­ady spent one quar­ter of his life travel­ling the roads with us in Fatty. 

Putting behind a lot of miles, it takes us two weeks to get back to Middle Norway. Ever­y­day, we drive 100 to 150 kilo­me­ters while our son is taking his nap. We hope for better weather in Mid-Norway. Sun and warmth! All we can think of is summer. How nice that would be now…
 
 

The cold is slowly getting to us. And we want our little globe­trot­ter to cele­brate a nice first birth­day. Someone who is so easy to have and almost always in a good mood should be spoi­led with nice weather on his birth­day.

And, in fact, we make it back to Roms­dal as plan­ned. An incredi­ble nice corner which we had alre­ady fallen in love with on our way up north, but which we had to leave due to special circum­s­tan­ces: with a closed snow cover of 3 meters height, activi­ties were simply out of the ques­tion.

June 28th

Today no driving and no hiking. Today we will anti­ci­pate his every wish. Not the stress of finding a loca­tion where we can wild­camp, we are stay­ing on an offi­cial camp­ground. No seclu­sion but skyping with the family. Pancakes for break­fast, a barbe­cue for lunch and yummy straw­ber­ries in the evening. Rough­hou­sing, yelling, clea­ning out the cupboards in the car and play­ing with birth­day pres­ents. Simply enjoy­ing the first offi­cial day as a todd­ler.

 

* * *

Sixth Chapter

Happy End

Our jour­ney has been a ride up hills and down into valleys. Also in the figu­ra­tive sense. But: our little guy survi­ved – and so did we!

Several weeks after our trip, we skim through our jour­nal. An unfor­gett­able, comple­tely enri­ching expe­ri­ence. We can’t imagine a more wonder­ful and active paren­tal leave. Our T4 also served us well, even if it wasn’t always easy. He maste­red several meters in alti­tude and fatally narrow roads.

We reached our limits, tore and expan­ded them. Clim­bing moun­ta­ins when you’re inex­pe­ri­en­ced is chal­len­ging. Physi­cally as well as mentally. We weren’t used to such vistas. Panora­mas that knocked us off our feet. Dimen­si­ons your mind just can’t grasp. A diver­sity of flora and fauna that enthu­sed us and left us speech­less.

But also the unfa­mi­liar confi­ne­ment turned out be a chal­lenge. Often we wanted to go back home. Fought or yelled. Gave each other the silent treat­ment or swore. You can’t escape pouring rain. That was also our paren­tal leave! And it remains to be said: The child survi­ved – and so did we!

We’ve grown toge­ther as a family, in an unbe­liev­a­bly beau­ti­ful coun­try.

Now, we are back in the grip of ever­y­day life and often go sepa­rate ways during the week. But at night, mother, child and father lie toge­ther in bed and remem­ber the time in Norway. 

Matteo, maybe some­day and somehow you might remem­ber this trip. And if not, then there are several pictures and a jour­nal to tell you about our adven­ture. Mom and Dad spent 100 percent time with you and really enjoyed it. 

Oh, and our Fatty, our Fatty no longer has the typi­cal T4 smell. 

He smells of life – and free­dom!

* * *

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An Episode by

Renartis

Artis & Renate Lehn

Renate and Artis. The two used to dream of trave­ling the world toge­ther in a red Volks­wa­gen T1. Mean­while, they are a family of four driving a T4, which beats any dream.

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  • Geertje on 14. Mai 2016

    Ganz so ähnlich und wie bei uns, als 2008 die Geschichte der nordic­fa­mily in der Eltern­zeit begann. Mit ähnli­chen Höhen und Tiefen. Danke für die schö­nen Bilder! Unsere gibt es in dem Buch „Nörd­lich von hier…“ und spätere Norder­fah­run­gen in unse­rem Blog. Wir wünschen Euch auch mit zwei Kindern so groß­ar­tige Reise­er­fah­run­gen! Eure Nordic­fa­mily

    Reply
    • Renartis on 19. Mai 2016

      Danke!
      Das schaut wirk­lich inter­es­sant aus! Werden auf jeden Fall mal rein schauen. Sind offen für neue Ideen und Inspi­ra­tio­nen, gerade was den Norden betrifft. Wird wohl hoffent­lich noch einige Touren da hin geben bei uns! 

      Eure Renar­tis

  • Mandy // Movin'n'Groovin on 15. Mai 2016

    Wow, was für eine schöne Story! Das sieht alles sehr schön und beein­dru­ckend aus, und euer klei­ner Pupser hatte offen­bar eine sehr spezi­elle und span­nende Zeit mit euch! :) Ich werde im Sommer auch im Van in Skan­di­na­vien unter­wegs sein — und hoffe auch, bis zum Nord­kap zu kommen!

    Reply
    • Renartis on 19. Mai 2016

      Hey Mandy!

      Vielen Dank! Wir wünschen dir eine gute Reise in den hohen Norden! Und grüß die Samen ganz lieb von uns! ;-)

  • Nessa on 17. Mai 2016

    Unglaub­lich gut. Authen­tisch und wunder­schön.
    Werde ich mir noch öfter anschauen.

    Reply
    • Renartis on 19. Mai 2016

      Liebe Nessa,

      vielen Dank für dein posi­ti­ves Feed­back!

      Die Lehn’s

  • Romina & Philipp on 16. April 2017

    Wir haben Tränen gelacht!!!! Was für ein unglaub­lich toller Reise­be­richt! Der beste, den wir je gele­sen haben!
    In 2,5 Mona­ten geht’s auch für uns mit VW-Bus & Baby (dann 8 Monate alt) nach Skan­di­na­vien. Auch wir planen 2 Monate inten­sive Eltern­zeit. Euer Bericht hat uns große Vorfreude, aber auch etwas flauen Magen beschert. Vielen lieben Dank für eure Eindrü­cke, Gedan­ken, Sorgen und Freu­den! Toll, dass es Menschen wie euch gibt, die sich so eine Reise trauen, sich die Mühe machen alles aufzu­schrei­ben und die solch ein unglaub­li­ches Schreib­ta­lent haben!
    Ganz liebe Grüße aus Bayern
    Romina, Phil­ipp und Luca

    Reply
  • Daniel on 2. Januar 2018

    Sehr schö­ner Bericht! Da bekommt man direkt Fern­weh. Eine prak­ti­sche Frage hätte ich noch, wie genau habt ihr das mit dem Schlaf­platz für den klei­nen in Bus gelöst?

    Reply
  • Oliver on 11. Januar 2019

    Hallo zusam­men, mit sehr großem Inter­esse habe ich eure Erfah­run­gen zur Eltern­zeit in Norwe­gen gele­sen. Wir planen auch einen solchen Trip dieses Jahr mit unse­rem Klei­nen zu unter­neh­men.
    Wie habt ihr denn die Schlaf­si­tua­tion im Cali gelöst? Konn­tet ihr zu dritt oben schla­fen?
    Wie lief es bei schlech­tem Wetter?
    Vom Platz­an­ge­bot her habt ihr alles soweit mitbe­kom­men? Oder muss­tet ihr jeden Tag Tetris spie­len?
    Viele Grüße,
    Oliver

    Reply

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Antarctica