Grand Forks couple remembers the trip of a lifetimeGlobetrotting seniors Tom and Marge Gabrielsen of Grand Forks considered the beauty of their Scandinavian motherland, viewing it from the top of a high ski hill in Lillehammer, Norway; the sight of a lifetime.
By: Will Powell, Grand Forks Herald
Globetrotting seniors Tom and Marge Gabrielsen of Grand Forks considered the beauty of their Scandinavian motherland, viewing it from the top of a high ski hill in Lillehammer, Norway; the sight of a lifetime.
Since retiring, the Gabrielsens have shopped in New York City, sunbathed in Lady Lakes, Fla., and enjoyed musicals in Boston. But Tom and Marge hold their 2001 escorted tour to Scandinavia in a special regard because they’d wanted to take the trip for most of their lives.
“It was awesome. It was an awesome time,” Marge says about her and her husband’s 10-day vacation to Scandinavia. “Every day is something new and different, and the scenery is unbelievable.”
Tom, 75, and his wife Marge have lived in Grand Forks since 1968, and Tom retired from teaching at Red River High School in 1997. Both of their fathers emigrated to the U.S. from Scandinavia and kept in contact with their families there. Through letters, Marge has maintained contact with her extended Norwegian family for many years, but most of Tom’s Norwegian relatives have passed on.
“When my dad was living, he wrote his brothers and sisters,” Marge says. “And then when they were in failing health, then the kids took over and wrote my dad to keep him informed of how their dad or their mom was doing. We’ve always maintained a connection with his family.”
Tom and Marge landed in Oslo on Sept. 11, 2001, so their longawaited journey was off to an unfortunate start. The heightened security presence in European airports unsettled Tom and Marge for a brief time, but they ultimately did not let the American tragedy ruin their experience.
“Our second day in Oslo, I’d never seen so many flowers at the U.S. Embassy,” Tom says.
“They were very, very empathetic towards all of the people that had lost their lives at the Towers in New York City,” Marge says.
On Sept. 13, Tom and Marge visited Heddal, Norway’s largest 12th-century stave church, and Marge found beauty in Heddal’s massive cemetery. Later that day, they visited the Norwegian Ski Museum, and stayed at the Eminent Hovdestoylen Hotel, a famous ski resort in Hovden, Norway. After decades of anticipation, Tom and Marge would go on to finally meet their Norwegian relatives near Lake Mjosa, Norway’s largest lake.
“We visited my father’s home, we also visited my first cousin and his wife, who actually still live on that place, and they had a beautiful lunch for us. Some other cousins and relatives stayed there, and we got to see some of them,” Marge says. “It was a nice point to meet them … we’d communicated by letter for many years.”
The Gabrielsens often used ferry boats to travel across the country, and they agree that sailing was one of the best ways to take in the scenery while making friends with other touring seniors. Tom and Marge met up with more of Marge’s family in Lillehammer, Norway on Sept. 19, at the top of the ski jump hill on the site where the 1994 Winter Olympics were held.
“That was kind of special to me because my father was a skier and skied in a lot of tournaments after he came to this country,” Marge says.
Tom and Marge say their vacation rejuvenated them on both a mental and spiritual level.
“For me, personally, I think I’ve developed more of an appreciation for what we have in this country,” Tom says. “Folks over there in Scandinavia are wonderful people; kind, considerate and maybe they have things really together. They don’t seem to be in such a hurry, like we do here.”
Char Brekke, owner of Brekke Tours and Travel in Grand Forks, estimates 75 percent of her senior clientele want to visit Scandinavia. According to Brekke, her company’s escorted tours to Scandinavia are the most popular because the itinerary is planned for the tourist in advance.
“People may have been attracted by the beauty of the country,” Brekke says. “I would say that a good percentage of the people travelling with us have some type of connection and a desire to see their home country.”
Marge’s brother explored Norway in 2006, inspired by Marge’s example.
Tom and Marge now firmly believe in the intangible health benefits of vacationing abroad.
“I’d love to do it again,” Marge says. “I can’t imagine not having something to look forward to and plan for, and just all the people that we actually met that have only been a letter in the mail … all of that just kind of does something to your whole well-being."
Copyright 2013, Grand Forks Herald.