The trip of a lifetime: Miss Norway visits her fatherland

Photo courtesy of Lauren Benson Lauren atop the Holmenkollen ski jump, with Oslo in the background.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Benson
Lauren atop the Holmenkollen ski jump, with Oslo in the background.

Lauren Benson
Miss Norway of Greater New York

As I walked through the audience in my high heels and blue gown, all I kept saying to myself was, “Don’t trip, Lauren, don’t trip, do not trip.” Luckily, I had a New York Vikings Police Officer linked arm and arm with me promising he would not let me fall as he escorted me into the ceremony room and up the stairs that led to the stage. When I got there, Rolf Kristian Stang greeted me with a warm smile and gripped my hand tightly as he welcomed me onstage for the 60th annual Miss Norway Pageant of Greater New York.

As the judges took turns asking questions and as I in turn answered each question, all I kept thinking was, “If my Bestefar was alive and here today, I know he would be so proud.” And he was—he was with me in spirit onstage that day. As I stood trembling on that stage after they announced my name, I will never forget the look on my father’s face. He had taught me all I know about my heritage that his father, my Bestefar, had taught him as a child: how to cook Norwegian meals, how to ski, and most importantly, core values that Norwegians take pride in: strength, simplicity, and courage.

As the winner of this year’s Miss Norway pageant, I was awarded a trip to Norway! An experience of a lifetime and the chance to take my Dad with me to the country his father grew up in. Being Miss Norway 2015 of Greater New York thus far has been an opportunity of a lifetime. Since then, I have had a number of opportunities to proudly wear my sash and crown. I attended a fundraiser at the Salty Dog and of course the 17th of May parade in Brooklyn, celebrating Norway’s Constitution Day where I was fortunate enough to ride in style in a convertible, sitting next to the crowned winner of this year’s Miss Heritage, Britt Henricksen. I also attended the 2015 Scandinavian Fest at Vasa Park where I was part of the welcoming ceremonies that included the parading of the flags and singing of the national anthems.

I am grateful to have had these wonderful opportunities, but the one opportunity that I enjoyed the most was my trip to Norway, which I could not have done without the generosity of the Norwegian Immigration Association (NIA). Although I was only planning on taking my Dad with me on this trip (because let’s be honest, my mother has a tremendous fear of flying), my family and I figured that this once-in-a-lifetime chance shouldn’t be taken for granted. So my Mom, Dad, and younger brother all decided to make this a family trip, and I could not be more blessed than to have had each one of them by my side throughout this entire experience.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Benson Lauren’s brother made it his mission to pet one of the many sheep they saw, but this is about as close as he got to the goal.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Benson
Lauren’s brother made it his mission to pet one of the many sheep they saw, but this is about as close as he got to the goal.

On the morning of my departure, I was packing my bags (I am a definitely a last-minute kind of gal) and my parents kept reminding me of the extra fees we’d have to pay if my suitcase was over 50 lbs, but I just couldn’t decide what to bring—so naturally, I brought it all. During the summer, the weather in Norway can be very temperamental. The forecast during our trip called for some warmer and humid days as well as colder days with some sun but almost always including rain. We were told the summers in Norway can be rainy, but in our case it hardly rained at all (yes, even in Bergen!). I would like to think that my Bestefar (who was a strong-willed man) was making sure we had the best weather during our first trip to his homeland.

The first stop in Norway was Bergen, a quaint little city with colorful historic shops and houses, a delicious fish market, and beautiful mountains. We took the Fløibanen funicular to Mt. Fløyen and enjoyed the magnificent views and then hiked back down. We stayed in Bergen for two nights and three days, and then traveled by ferry through the majestic Sognefjord to Flåm, an adorable little town where we had an appetizing mid-day lunch that consisted of salmon, scrambled eggs, and potato salad over a delicious bed of greens with apple pie for dessert.

We then took a sightseeing train from Flåm to Myrdal, on which we were able to see some of the most breathtaking sites in the world. We saw incredible views of the countryside, a beautiful waterfall (where the train actually stopped so we could get out and take pictures), and snow-capped mountains. Once we arrived in Myrdal, we boarded another train and enjoyed more incredible views and tiny towns that you could see in the distance lit up in the night sky. Around 10:00 p.m. we arrived in the capital of Norway.

Oslo was sensational, awe-inspiring, and so full of life; everywhere you turned there was something new to see, or somewhere interesting to go. We visited the Royal Palace, the Viking Ship Museum (where my father ate a Norwegian delicacy, whale! No thank you for me, but I sure am proud of him for giving it the good old college try!), and Vigeland Park. Out of all the attractions, my favorite was the Holmenkollen Ski Museum, a place that resonates with me on a very personal level. My father started teaching me how to ski at the young age of two, since my Bestefar had been a competitive ski jumper in Norway. Seeing the startlingly massive Olympic ski jump and tower at this museum was an experience that I will never forget.

We stayed in Oslo for three days and then drove through the beautiful Norwegian countryside to our final destination, Kristiansand, where my Bestefar’s family owns a small farm. This was my favorite stop of all, not only because of its beauty and because my Bestefar grew up there, but because I was fortunate enough to meet my Norwegian cousins from my Dad’s side for the first time in my life. On the day we arrived in Kristiansand, we reached my cousin’s house where all of our cousins were standing together in the street jumping and waving to greet us. Hugs, kisses, and introductions were shared for approximately 20 minutes before we were ushered inside to have a delicious lunch and coffee. (I thought I drank a lot of coffee, but in Norway coffee is pretty much a morning, afternoon, evening, and everything in between type of drink—and I was eternally grateful).

Photo courtesy of Lauren Benson Family together in Kristiansand.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Benson
Family together in Kristiansand.

Our cousins opened up their homes to us and told us we could stay with them for as long as we liked, so we took them up on their offer under one condition: only if they promised that they would come stay with us in the States if they ever had the chance. Photo albums and memories were exchanged as we talked about my Bestefar and his siblings and told one another more about our lives on opposite ends of the world. That night we went to another cousin’s house where we were escorted to the place we would be staying for the next four days: a beautiful two-floor guest boathouse overlooking the water right beside their main house. It was great staying with family and we enjoyed wonderful home-cooked Norwegian dishes (our favorite was their Norwegian pizza!).

In Kristiansand we did a lot more sightseeing. Our cousins took us out on their boat on a beautiful sunny morning and after we docked near Sogne, other cousins met us and drove us to the farm where my Bestefar grew up. Only remnants of the farmhouse still exist, but we walked around the land and our cousins described the house as it used to be; it was very sentimental for all of us. They then took us to the graveyard where many of my Bestefar’s family were buried. That night, our cousins prepared us the greatest shellfish dinner you could ever imagine. Three tables pushed together in their backyard were filled with all types of seafood including clams, mussels, shrimp, lobster, and so many more deliciously prepared dishes. After we all said grace, we chowed down until we couldn’t eat anymore.

The next day, we woke up early and our cousins took us on a trip towards Lysebotn. On our way, we stopped at a mineral park museum called “Mineralparken” where we ate the most delicious waffles and ice cream for breakfast (I could really get used to that). We stopped along the way at a majestic waterfall where we climbed up massive rocks to get a better view. The stream coming from the waterfall ran right through the rocks that we climbed and was so clear that it was good enough for us to drink—so we did! The journey up Lysevegen road was filled with hairpin turns, scenic views around every corner, and lots of snow. We stopped every half hour or so along the way to take pictures, breathe in the fresh Norwegian air, and see a sheep or two. Or two-hundred. My brother made it his personal mission to pet one of the sheep before leaving Lysebotn. It took him 30 minutes and 30 handfuls of grass to graze a sheep’s ear before calling it quits.

Unfortunately, the morning arrived where we had to depart Kristiansand and leave all our cousins. If I said that tears weren’t shed, I would be lying, because even though we only had four days to get to know our Norwegian family, we bonded like we had known each other all our lives! This was our family, and they had made our time in Norway unforgettable. They were extremely hospitable by opening their homes to us, taking us on all of these amazing sightseeing trips, telling us about the culture in Norway, and even teaching us a little bit of the Norwegian language. This was the trip of a lifetime and we cannot “takk” the NIA enough for giving us the opportunity.

So far, being Miss Norway has been an incredible experience, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have met each and every person involved with this competition. Every time I wear my sash and crown, I proudly support my heritage as a Norwegian American. I am very eager to see who will be crowned winner for 2016—but as for now I am definitely not ready to give up my crown just yet!

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.