(CNN) — When Ida Skibenes pulled up in front of the Solstrand Hotel, her stomach was in knots, torn between nerves and excitement.
Solstrand is one of Norway’s finest hotels, located just outside Bergen, surrounded by fjords and home to over 125 years of history.
Every year, Ida’s workplace in Bergen left for the dreamy surroundings of Solstrand for a few days of remote work. That year, 2014, was Ida’s first with the company. Her co-workers had regaled her with stories about Solstrand and she was excited. But her excitement wasn’t really about escaping the city and relaxing among the mountains. It was all about Hanna Aardal.
Hanna was Ida’s colleague. When Ida joined the company, the two clicked quickly, but they were in different places in their lives. Ida was married at the time and focused on her relationship and getting used to the new job. Meanwhile, Hanna was a single parent whose teenage daughter had just moved to the US for a year of college.
But as the months went on, their circumstances changed. Ida’s relationship broke down and she went through a divorce. Hanna got used to the fact that her daughter was abroad and began to spend more time socializing with colleagues. Over time, Hanna and Ida grew closer.
“Our energies matched,” Ida says. “It was always more fun to be at work when Hanna was at work.”
“I think we kind of had the same kind of humor, so we quickly became friends,” Hanna says.
Hanna and Ida began collaborating on a fun side project, a short mockumentary along the lines of “The Office,” showing the quirks of their workplace. The film was to be screened at the Solstrand retreat.
The historic Solstrand Hotel in Norway played an important role in the relationship between Hanna and Ida.
The two worked on the project outside office hours and began sharing dinners and drinks on a regular basis. They messaged regularly, often texting each other good night.
Looking back at this period today, Ida and Hanna suggest they were “dating without realizing it”.
“I was used to dating men and I had never been in a relationship with a woman before,” Hanna says. “Looking back, it’s clear we had feelings for each other.”
Ida didn’t know if Hanna would be open to dating a woman. And she didn’t know if her feelings were mutual, or if they were all in her head. Still, Ida felt they were signs that the relationship was something more.
A few weeks before the trip to Solstrand, the two had stayed up late at Hanna’s house to chat. When Ida suggested we go home at 2:00 AM, Hanna had grabbed her hand and asked her not to leave. It felt like a ‘turning point’, at least for Ida. But she left anyway – they had both been drinking and she felt the conversation should be handled under different circumstances.
Solstrand, Ida decided, was the perfect opportunity. Especially when Ida and Hanna were accidentally chosen to live together.
“I had feelings for Hanna and I was absolutely in love with her,” says Ida. “But if it was all in my head, then I had to clarify that. And we started working together. So I just decided that if we end up in the same room, that’s a sign for me to actually do something about it.”
Moreover, Solstrand was a beautiful, romantic setting.
“If she’d turned me down, at least I wouldn’t be in a dump like that somewhere. I’d still be in a beautiful hotel,” jokes Ida.
Ida brought up the subject at the end of the first day in Solstrand. It was late at night and the two women were in their separate single beds.
Hanna’s reaction surprised them both.
“I kind of started to say, ‘I know we’ve become good friends and all, I love you like a friend.’ But when I said it, I realized it’s more natural,” Hanna recalls.
“I was shocked when she told me that,” says Ida. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t happening.'”
After the initial shock, the conversation continued.
“We talked, we kissed. And then we just sat down and decided we’d eventually figure it out,” says Ida.
The next day, Ida and Hanna were busy with a busy day of meetings and presentations. They didn’t elaborate on what had happened the night before, but it was a tradition in their company for everyone to hand over greeting cards to their Solstrand roommates at the end of the trip.
In Ida and Hanna’s cards, they write down their burgeoning feelings. And Ida excitedly sent her close friends the news.
“I texted three thumbs up, ‘We kissed!'” Ida says.
“But otherwise we kept it quiet for a long time.”
Solstrand is surrounded by Norwegian fjords and mountains.
Hanna needed some time to come to terms with her newly recognized feelings.
“I’d been in some relationships, but mostly I was a single parent and very self-sufficient in a way, and not very good at close relationships. So I think it was really scary and exciting at the same time — and confusing.”
Both Ida and Hanna were also aware that they were not only risking a friendship, but also a working relationship. For Hanna, this added to her anxiety.
“I think I was really afraid of ruining it between the two of us,” Hanna says. “Because we were working together, it would have had bigger consequences if I screwed up at some point — which I suspected I would.”
Ida and Hanna took it slow, but gradually they grew closer. Exactly a year after their meeting on Solstrand, the two were back at the hotel by the fjord for the annual work trip, and decided they were ready to tell their colleagues. Later, at home in Bergen, Hanna shared the news with her daughter.
“She was very happy for us,” says Hanna, who remembers her daughter joking that it would have been weird to have a man in their women’s home.
“She came out to us two years later, so it’s a very gay family,” Hanna added.
Return to Solstrand
Ida proposed to Hanna during a return visit to Solstrand.
Hanna and Ida moved in together in 2015, not long after they shared the news of their relationship with their loved ones. They started talking about marriage and decided that when the time was right, Ida would be the one to propose.
“I like surprises and Ida hates surprises,” explains Hanna.
Ida knew exactly where she wanted to propose: Solstrand. Three years after they first expressed their feelings out loud, Ida and Hanna were back at the historic hotel during the annual corporate retreat. The company had just aired the traditional office “mockumentary” when Ida interrupted proceedings.
“She just stood up in front of everyone and said ‘There’s another video’ and she gave me a box of Kleenex because I’m a cryer, I cry all the time. And then she had this very sweet and romantic video with music, portraying our relationship, and ending with the proposal.”
Hanna wiped away the tears of joy and said yes.
“It would have been very uncomfortable if I hadn’t,” she jokes today.
Hanna (left) and Ida got engaged at Hotel Solstrand and married in 2022 in Bergen.
“I was very nervous,” recalls Ida. “Maybe I told a few people before we went, but five minutes before I started showing the film, I ran around and told everyone.”
Her colleagues were delighted and encouraged a panicked Ida to go for it.
“I had a complete meltdown, got two glasses of wine and two cigarettes, and then I was ready to go,” says Ida.
“It felt really good to do it in that hotel with those people, because they kind of went through the whole journey of our relationship. So it was exciting and a lot of fun. Especially the part where we went to celebrate with so many people who love us and want us to be happy.”
After some postponed pandemic wedding plans, Ida and Hanna married in the summer of 2022. The much-anticipated ceremony took place outdoors, in a park in Bergen near the couple’s home.
“It was a very special party,” says Hanna, thinking back to a day full of sun and festivities.
Ida and Hanna hope to celebrate 50 years of marriage together.
Hanna and Ida no longer work together. When Ida left the company a few years ago, her colleagues gave her a gift certificate for a romantic weekend away in Solstrand. The couple are looking forward to returning and hope to one day celebrate 50 years of marriage at their favorite hotel.
Hanna and Ida describe their years together so far as a “fascinating and fun journey.”
“It’s the feeling that you have your best friend there, all the time. Like, no matter what, you have your best friend, and it makes you feel like everything will be okay in the end,” says Ida, who adds that becoming a stepparent also “changed her life” and taught her a lot.
Hanna also says she learned a lot from Ida.
“Ida is very brave,” says Hanna. “She’s a lot wiser than I am when it comes to relationships and emotions. And she’s very brave in daring to talk about things when the going gets tough.”
“We became very close very quickly and have a kind of complete trust in each other so that we can be ourselves. I’ve never had such a close relationship and it has changed my life in many different ways. And also having a partner who also loves my daughter and being a family — a bigger family.”
Top photo of Hanna, right, and Ida, left, courtesy of Ida Skibenes