At six in the morning we arrive in Oslo. We have had a 32-hour bus ride, two nights on the bus. Olivier's whole body is stiff from all the possible sleeping positions he tried. We are trying different, more sustainable travel options between the Netherlands and Norway. The bus worked out really well this time because we could take all our winter gear for a bargain. Easy, but also a long ride. An option for the future, but we prefer to experience the train and boat first. From Oslo we have to take the train for another hour and a half and then three quarters of an hour by car. The car? Yes, we bought a used car one day before coming to the Netherlands and Belgium. We don't really feel good about it, but it is a necessary evil if we want to live in the forest of Norway. Of course, we will continue to do everything by bike, even in winter. Although it is our first winter in Norway and we don't know if it is possible. The Norwegians tell us that we can't cycle all the time. The road to town can be busy and there is no bike lane. If there is a lot of snow on the road with deep ruts, it can be dangerous to bike, according to the locals who admittedly never bike themselves. Well, we are going to experience it this winter, that is our goal. To try and learn everything. The car gives us some freedom and security. The car is almost 20 years old with 200,000 kilometers on the odometer. It was cheap, drives fine and that's all the car has to do for us.
In Oslo, we get our skis and two crammed bike trailers off the bus. We click the wheels into the trailers and walk from the bus to the train. This winter we will use the bike trailers primarily as sleds. Our rental house is at the end of a cul-de-sac on top of a hill. From the farm, the road to it is not cleared of snow, which means we have to walk home a kilometer. We think we love it, it is part of our adventurous life, but the Norwegians say we are crazy. We just want to experience it ourselves, maybe it will be disappointing and after a few months we will have to agree with the Norwegians.
We are back in Norway and we notice it immediately. Where in the Netherlands we have been sitting in crowded trains for the past month or sometimes had to stand up, here it is almost silently quiet in the train. It is still dark when we leave Oslo at eight o'clock. Slowly it gets a little bit lighter and we see occasional snow on the fields. The temperature here is still above zero and most of last week's snow has melted. In our rental house it will probably be different. There we are at 450 meters altitude and hopefully there will be snow.
Our car starts like clockwork, even after it has been idle for a month at our friends in Hamar. We cram the bike trailers in, the skis and all the other gear we had stored in Hamar. That's one less place where some of our gear is anyway. When we left Neerpelt on Friday with the full trailers, it still felt like we are moving. It feels like a definite move while we don't have our own place in Norway at all yet. We are renting the house until April, but after that it is uncertain for the time being. Incredibly busy and fun months await us. In April our book comes out in English! After that we will tour Europe for a while, followed by a coaching retreat in Norway, a canoeing and leadership trip in Sweden, a wedding in the Netherlands and then a few months to the US for a promotional tour of our English book. In between, we will occasionally be in Norway, which is exactly how we envision life with a basecamp in Norway. Our own place that we can always go back to, our home. It would just give us a lot more peace of mind if we went to our own house now where we can store all our stuff. Before April we really hope to have that place anyway and secretly we still hope to buy the dream place we are renting.
We drive from Hamar toward Lillehammer, barely forty-five minutes by car. Pete, where we looked after the house and cats for over a month, sends us a message that the roads are very slippery. Just before we left for The Netherlands, we changed the summer tires for winter tires. In Norway a lot of people drive with studded tires, but we prefer not to. It's bad for the asphalt and the environment. With normal winter tires it is also doable, although we have hardly any experience driving on snow-covered roads. When we arrive in Brøttum, the village where we will live just south of Lillehammer, there is a thick layer of snow. We turn off the main road and park the car by the mailboxes, down the private road. The owner of the house has said we can park the car at the farm, but to do so we have to go up the steep road. The snow is mushy with a layer of ice underneath. Without studded tires or four-wheel drive, there is no way we will make it to the top today. The owner comes to pick us up with a big pickup and drives all the way up to the house. It's so beautiful up here! All the trees are covered under a thick layer of snow, just like a fairy tale landscape. All the way up we drive first past the garage that stands next to the dilapidated wooden entrance gate. A little further on is the barn and around the corner to the right is the red house. The leaves are off the trees and have been replaced by a thick layer of snow. We have a beautiful view of the lake and can even see the lights of Lillehammer in the distance. We immediately feel why we are so in love with this place, but we also feel that it is not our place. The owner loves this place just as much and will not sell it. We suppress the feeling and try to enjoy the first arrival at our new home. This place is so perfect and so made for us. It hurts.
We expect a cold house where we may immediately light the wood stove to warm the house, but the owner has turned on the heating this morning. It is pleasantly warm inside and everything looks just the same as last time we were inside. Again we are surprised at how big it is inside. Actually, the house is much too big for the two of us. Downstairs would be big enough and only when Zoë's family comes for Christmas will we use the whole house.
The owner drives away, back to the farmhouse, where we will put our car and bikes. We unload our things, pull open cupboards, walk through the house and try to feel at home. The whole house is furnished and full of old furniture, figurines and other knickknacks. Ideally, we would like to get rid of all these things and hide them in closets, but it is barely four months that we will live here. We still feel a little lost and uncomfortable. Olivier knows that he always needs a few days to get used to a new situation. Yet there is a deeper feeling bothering him, one that is much bigger than "just getting used to it". He tries to ignore it and focus on the positive. It is the struggle Olivier has been struggling with for a few months now. Ever since we didn't buy that one house, Olivier has often been negative. He lacks grip, security and something to build on. It's Olivier's positivity that Zoe normally draws on, but now it's the other way around. She needs to keep herself strong and help Olivier. She needs Olivier's security and positive attitude because her only pillar is the dream that one day this house will be our dream home. That handhold is anything but certain to build on.
We chose the bedroom on the second floor. The bed is actually a bit small for two people to sleep in, but we get used to that. In one of the many storage closets we found two quilts, pillows and sheets. They smell musty. Our clothes are in neat piles in the closet, Olivier's stuffed animal ready on his pillow. We brush our teeth and quickly crawl into bed. On the second floor there is no heating on so it is freezing cold. Only the bathroom has a small heater on so that showering is not a punishment and the pipes won't freeze. We kick ourselves warm in bed and snuggle close together.
"How do you feel now?" asks Zoë.
Olivier has been hiding his feelings all day and doesn't want to say what shouldn't be said. He knows Zoe doesn't want to hear it, but he also knows that there is no point in holding it back for a few days. It will come out anyway, from his side or Zoe's.
"It won't be our place, ever," Olivier says.
Zoë begins to cry and then bursts into tears all over. Her only foothold collapses completely, her reason for continuing to believe in it. She too felt the same thing today and didn't want to give in to it. This house is not our home and does not feel like our home. All the accumulated tears come out, all the hidden negative thoughts to be positive towards Olivier, everything comes out.
"I don't know Zoë," Olivier sighs, "I have nothing at all to build on here, nothing at all. What are we doing here?"
During the month in Holland, all the doubts were hidden for a while, but now we have to face them again. The uncertainty does not resolve itself, but is as great as it was a month ago. We have to get down to the bottom. We doubt everything except one thing: each other. We started this adventure together and it only brings us closer together. That love helps us through and we can build on it. It is our strongest pillar, one with which we can build the rest and fulfill our dream. We agree on that in bed after we cry out and all the negative energy is out. If this was the bottom, we will make it.