Western Norway through a new lens

John Woods

Photo courtesy of John Woods
Camera in hand, retired engineering professor John Woods enjoys traveling Europe and sharing his experiences in a video series with a special educational bent.

A different type of travelogue

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

When John Woods made his first trip to France in 1971, he had never left the North American continent. But the travel bug took hold, and now almost a half-century later, there are no signs of it letting go. Woods is still traveling and now produces video travelogues to share his experiences with others. The first episode in his latest series, “Travels in Western Norway,” visits historic Bergen, the gateway to the fjords of Norway.

Woods is an electrical engineer by profession. With a Ph.D., he has had a distinguished career as a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., the oldest engineering school in the country. He has written three textbooks and over 100 academic papers, and attended conferences around the world for many years. Now retired, he still has one doctoral student and goes into the school one day a week. He plans to continue living in Albany, but traveling is at the top of his list.

At first, one wonders how an engineer turns into a travel videographer. One tends to associate travelogues with talkative extroverts and engineering with quiet methodical introverts. But as I learned in a conversation with John, his day job provided him with important skills that helped him turn his hobby into a second profession. Video production requires a specific set of skills, and his aptitude for technology and learning has come in handy. And the skill set is changing constantly. Over the years, Woods has had the tenacity and know-how to make the transition from VHS to high definition Blu-ray, he has upgraded his camera several times, and he has taught himself all the software needed to create the end product.

As an experienced professor, Woods has taken a different approach to travel videos than what we are used to with big travel gurus, the likes of Rick Steves. Woods is not interested in making “how-to” videos, and unlike Rick Steves, he doesn’t appear in any of his own productions. He began by giving travel lectures for the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), and then started making videos, emulating the style of PBS and BBC travelogues, specifically marketing them to engineers. He wanted to be less commercial and more thought-provoking, highlighting more historical and cultural information. He also designs his videos to be consumed by anyone who is interested in a given destination, whether or not they are actually able to make a trip there.

We talked in detail about the process of making a travel video. One single production takes several months of work. Initially, it is Woods’ wife, Harriet, who sets up all the itineraries and plans for the trips. He goes out with his camera and looks for local experts, professionals and professors, and he always asks a lot of questions. He brings an enormous amount of footage home and then sets out to edit the clips. This can be a tedious, time-consuming process, and he is careful not to overwork the material. At that point, he turns to someone to turn the clips into a story, which is when I first came into contact with John Woods.

When Woods found me online through The Norwegian American and asked me if I would like to work on the Bergen episode, I jumped at the chance. As president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, I have been to Bergen many times, and consider it to be a home away from home. It would be my task to review all the clips and weave them into a narrative, and I have to say that by doing this, I too, learned more about my favorite city.

In preparation for this new endeavor, I watched Woods’s earlier videos about Southwest England and the Dordogne region of France to get an idea of the style and tone I would be emulating. I set to work on Bergen, and in the end, I was able to create a 28-minute script, ready for a musical soundtrack and narration. Selecting the music can also be a long, drawn-out process: Woods sometimes listens to hundreds of musical tracks to get it just right. The music must be acquired professionally, and once in place, he sends the video to professional voice talent to record the narration. Once it is also in place and Woods has done his final editing, the video is finished and can be marketed as a DVD, Blu-ray disc, or with online streaming. These days, most sales take place on Amazon, where the Bergen video is now available for streaming only, both in the United States and United Kingdom.

Woods has been to a lot of cities in northern Europe, but as he learned, Norway is special with is dramatic landscapes. Four other videos are planned for the western Norway series: two on fjords, Geirangerfjord and Eidfjord, another on Ålesund, and one on stave churches. Woods also has footage from other parts of the country that will be left over. He mentioned that he would like to go back and experience Norway in the wintertime, so with time, there may be more in store.

Looking back, Woods reminisced on his first whirlwind European trip through France. He and Harriet toured around in a little car and muddled their way forth. Woods put his high school French into practice, and his wife, knowing more, could fill in some of the gaps. It was an adventure for sure, but after two weeks, they were glad to be home. Today, things are different. English is very widespread, a lot of information is available for tourists, and in general, it is much easier to get around.

Nonetheless, there is so much more to explore than first meets the eye, and for those who would like to experience western Norway from a fresh perspective, John Woods’ new video series is something to look forward to. As his scriptwriter, he’s challenged me to have a deeper look at a place I know and love, as we travel along together.

Western Norway Travel

To purchase the first Bergen episode of John Woods’ “Travels in Western Norway,” visit www.amazon.com/Bergen/dp/B07TWCZK58.

This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.