First Impressions

It was hot—the kind of hot that makes you feel like you’re melting. Not what we expected for Scandinavia, our last big summer trip while living abroad. 

After arriving at our hotel near the harbor in Oslo, Norway we quickly agreed to unpack and head down to the water’s edge for lunch. Standing outside the hotel I paused to take in the sounds and smells of the city. Flowers were blooming. Church bells were ringing. At this moment, we could have been in any city in Europe.

Every city we had been had its own personality and energy. Paris felt sophisticated. Dubrovnik was magical. Berlin was like walking back into history. At this moment, I couldn’t feel Oslo, she didn’t have a distinct pulse. 

It was quiet, no one was visible on the streets around us. The architecture was a mix of old and modern. You couldn’t figure out which way she was headed—backwards or forwards. She was void of any smells I could recognize. Clean, yes, but almost too clean. Sterile. Nothing memorable.

As we embarked on the short walk—the kids a few yards ahead, chatting and laughing—I began to notice more color: a vibrant mural on the wall of a utilitarian building and the chipped pink remnants of an old bus bench sign. 

New architecture emerged. Modern lofts with floor to ceiling windows offering 360-degree views replaced the confused architecture I’d initially noticed. Intriguing sculptures caught my attention. I experienced my first smell of Oslo, a faint whiff of fish that was being smoked or grilled nearby. 

As we got closer to the water, I began to feel the city’s energy. Even the kids picked up their pace, as though sensing a livelier vibration. We were enveloped in sounds of people in lively conversations, a distant boat horn honking as it pulled out of the harbor, music falling out of a local café.  

My first impressions were changing quickly. It was summertime in Oslo. Where else would everyone be but enjoying the sun near the water?

As we made our way past the lofts and cafes, the harbor appeared in historic and modern beauty.  Lining the boardwalk were dozens of restaurants, ice-cream shops and specialty stores. A small swimming area was quickly filling up with kids of all ages.

The harbor was confettied  with a variety of boats—ferries, yachts, sailing and cargo. I watched the kids pause from their chatting to admire it, looking back for the first time with a smile that said “this place is cool.” We snapped a cute photo in the "O" for Oslo.

Raegan ran towards the ice cream stand in the shape of a giant pink sphere with a drawing of three scoops of ice-cream on top.  It was doing its job—tempting kids to come take a peek. Braeden turned to see where she was going and quickly followed.  

“Mom!” he yelled.  

The ice cream quickly melted down their hands as they ran off toward the water’s edge. I closed my eyes, the sun warming my face. I was glad my first impressions had changed. So much so that Oslo was quickly becoming a favorite.  I took her pulse—she was lively yet refined.

Head First

We were eating dinner in Milan, Italy, part of a week-long trip in the Lake Como area with family friends visiting from California. With full bellies and a newly corked bottle of wine we started to talk about the 100 things we wanted to do before we died, better known as a Bucket List.  

The daughter of the couple visiting, Katie, had just turned 25, and one of her biggest fears was bungee jumping—a fear she wanted to face in her lifetime. Sean and I also had this on our Bucket List and knew that one of the highest manmade jumps in the world, the Golden Eye, made famous by the 007 film of the same name, was only 45 minutes away.  We accepted this as fate. 

Sensing our excitement, the kids came rushing over to the table. 

 “What are you going to do Mommy and Daddy?” Braeden, age seven, asked.  

“Jump off a bridge, B!”  my husband said.

With that casual smile and wide-eye look I love so much, Braeden said, “cool.”  Five-year-old Raegan asked “us too?”  

“Not this time sweetie,” I said.

That night we found the website easily. It allowed us to sign up online, guaranteeing our spot and a set time so we wouldn’t have to wait.  I liked that such a system created a sense of commitment, of no going back.  We bought the tickets. We planned our jumps for 11:00 a.m. the next day, and the weather—a deciding factor for bungee jumping— looked perfect. 

In the morning, as we made our way towards the dam, the knots in my stomach churned. I can remember the moment when the dam first came into view. The traffic had started to slow. As we made our way around the final turn on the two-lane road, there she was.  Standing in all her glory, over 700 feet tall, was the Verzasca Dam, home of the “Golden Eye” bungee. 

Perched in the middle of the bridge was the bungee jump stand. From afar we saw small dots of people gathered to watch. As I looked more closely, I saw a jumper leaping head first, arms wrapped in an X across his chest, falling in what seemed like slow motion. More fear crept in, now lodging itself in my spine.  

“Wait, what, you are going to do that?” Braeden said. The first sense of guilt entered my mind. 

Sean volunteered to go first.  With the greatest fear of heights, he wanted to get it over with.  I was relieved. Maybe watching him jump, bounce, hang and be pulled back up would give me confidence.  

On the bridge, the kids tried to get as close to the edge as possible.  Our friends, who at this point were sitting down on the bridge due to their fear of heights, agreed to hold on to them tightly.  I held the video camera, ready to shoot my husband’s plunge.

Sean stood on top of the jump deck, harnessed in three places and ready to go.  In true Sean style, he held his hands together in prayer, said a quick Hail Mary, and took ten deep breaths. He was convinced he was jumping to his death. Then he was gone.  

“Oh my God, that was crazy!” I yelled, for a moment forgetting that my kids were right next to me. 

“Where did he go?” Raegan asked, a slight sense of panic in her voice.  

“Daddy’s okay baby, see him, he’s right there, floating like a bird.”  

“Let me see, let me see!” she said, pushing herself closer to the bridge’s edge.  

Since I held the camera, Katie kept a strong arm around her.  On the video I can hear Katie’s sweet voice reassuring my daughter as Sean emerged smiling from ear to ear.  

“That was so cool!” he yelled.    

As I walked to get harnessed, I heard Raegan ask nervously if I would be alright. I looked back to her and and said, “Mommy has always wanted to do this, and I’m so happy you are here to see me. I love you sweetie. See you in a few minutes.”  

At that moment, I did question our decision. What might this experience do the psyches of our kids? The answer came to me anchored in one of my life tenants—to live life fully, courageously and without regret. That was what I was doing, and my kids were witnesses. 

I swallowed hard and continued my walk towards the platform.  Soon, I was flying headfirst into the abyss. 

Don't watch if you have a weak stomach!