Sunday, June 19, 2011

Uniting and Reuniting

yacht club docks in Stavanger

Today we traveled from Stavanger to Oslo via train. My friend Kaia met us at the station and was nice enough to drive us to the University of Oslo campus where I'll live and study, and then dropped us off at the hotel. The Norwegian rail line winds through even more picturesque Norwegian scenery following the coast south to Kristiansand, and then north to Norway's capital.

Stavanger is the city where my great-grandparents and their four oldest children emigrated from in 1923. My great grandfather, Nils Simonsen had a sewing machine shop that eventually went bankrupt before the family left Norway and came to Chicago. My Grandma and Grandpa Titze found the shop when they visited in 1986 and we were able to do the same yesterday. The shop today is not likely as Nils left it. With few structural changes except the upper windows, the bright yellow storefront is flanked by a tattoo parlour and the SHIT Skateboard Shop. I'll post the pictures from the early 20th century, 1986, and yesterday on here later.

Sigval, Atle, Kirsten, Dad, me, Per, Ole

My Dad's second cousins, Per and Sigval Simonsen, live in Stavanger. Per surprised us at the bus/train depot when we arrived on Wednesday and gave us a ride through downtown to our bed and breakfast. His son, Ole Henrik, who is only a month older than me, picked us up later in the afternoon and took us to their house which sits on the water across the harbor. Per's wife made a typical Norwegian meal with rømmergrøt, smoked salmon, potatoes with dill, and a variety of other meats and cheeses - entirely delicious.

Ole Henrik and his cousin, Atle, took me on a tour of Stavanger from the water in Per's boat. Like Bergen, Stavanger has its own brygge lined with shops and restaurants. Outside of the brygge docks are many cruise ships and local ferries.

Ole and Atle both spent a year of high school in the U.S. - Ole in Wisconsin, Atle in California - so the three of us had plenty to talk about. Atle is setting out on an all-American road trip on Monday with his friends from Stavanger. We had a great evening at Per's house and are grateful for his hospitality.

Thursday we climbed Pulpit Rock, or Preikestolen. My friend for Augustana, Ann Marit, joined us from her home in Håvik nearby. The rock ledge boasts a 604 meter drop to the water below in Lysefjorden. A ferry and bus took us to our starting point from which it was a 4.5 hour. As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I'll let the photo do the talking.

Monday night my we rode with Per to Sandnes, a town just south of Stavanger, to meet my Dad's first cousin, Linda, whom he had not seen since he was in grade school. She had interesting families stories about the siblings who stayed in Chicago since she also lived there until after college when she moved to Norway. Linda lives with her son, Johan Olav, who is a brilliant, 13 year-old boy with autism. He is obsessed with movies and he just recently got into Laurel and Hardy. I think he was surprised that I knew who they were.

Tuesday was spent exploring Stavanger. Our time spent at the Norwegian Emigration Centre was fascinating and we had the entire exhibit and library to ourselves. More on that later as well. Although this was not talked about at the Centre, I think it is interesting that the growing population of immigrants has put even more focus on other elements of Norwegian society including equality, education, religion. Maybe this will end up being the focus of my 6 week research project.


  1. "As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I'll let the photo do the talking." This is my favorite thing you have ever said!

  2. Thad,

    I LOVE your blog! Keep it up! We might be related . . my Grandfather emigrated from the island of Bru, which is just off the coast of Stavanger. We visited Bru in 2001, which was exactly 100 years after Grandpa Brue emigrated to the US, at age 16, never to return to his beloved Norway again. I have a second cousin Eirik, who still lives there.

    Lovely photos and essays . . . keep writing! It's hot here today in SD , , , finally!

    Jan BRUE (the e got added at Ellis Island!)Enright

  3. @SannaJoy - thanks :)
    @Jan - Good to hear from you! As you well know, Stavanger and the surrounding area is one beautiful view after another. I've never been overly interested in family genealogy, but it's hard not to get into it when I'm walking the same streets my ancestors did. Of course, the hospitality of extended family has been overwhelming, too. Glad to hear SD is heating up...just in time for the 4th!