Highway to Hell – Part 2

Leonard Lea Frazer

I’ll continue now on my self-planned Scandinavian tour, having already travelled from Sweden, through Denmark and into Norway back in 1993.

Using Drammen, just southwest of Oslo, as my home base for the next three days, I journeyed to Telmark and Norway’s largest medieval stave church at Heddal. My guide and chauffeur for two days was my Norwegian cousin, Frank Reiersen. His father Bjorn acted as back-seat navigator. Heddal is one of 27 stave churches situated in southern Norway. At one time there were 700 of the all-wood buildings in the country. On the second day we stopped briefly at the Uvdal, Nore, Rollag and Flesberg stave churches, all situated in the district of Vestfold. The stave churches of Norway have stood up over the passing centuries due to continuing maintenance and an outside coating of special tar. The melding of Christian crucifixes and Pagan wood sculptures of dragons and serpents give the stave churches of Norway their overwhelming appeal.

After a quick visit to the old fishing village of Stavern, near Larvik, and a short tour of the newly opened island Stavern Fort Citadel, I traveled back to Oslo. The next morning, on my 20th day on the trail, I boarded the train to Myrdal, en route to Norway’s west coast. From Myrdal, at 867 meters above sea level, I changed trains and rode the very steep Flam railway for 20 kilometres, all the way down to the fjord town of Flam. Situated on the Sognefjord, also known as Norway’s Longest Tourist Attraction because it extends 200 kilometres inland, Flam acts as a gateway to the many isolated communities in the area. I bought a ticket on one of several ferries available and, after a short voyage, disembarked at Aurland.

The Sognefjord area offers visitors attractions that include: fjord cruises, glacier walks, fishing and hunting, mountain climbing, farm and boat museums, water-falls and five more Stave Churches. I decided to photograph the Borgund Stave Church and proceeded on local buses over mountains and down valley corridors to Laerdal and then on to Borgund. The church was smaller than I anticipated, but I was still impressed by its rustic beauty.

Borgund Stave Church was built in 1150 and therefore is one of the oldest timber buildings still intact in the world today. I explored the outer porch-like walkway that surrounds its perimeter and, with the aid of a flashlight, I was able to find what appeared to be ancient graffiti. Symbols had been carved into the outer walls. During the Middle Ages people in that area of Norway could pay money to the church and have their family name or brand marked on the church wall in exchange for spiritual protection. The interior floor of the building is covered up by a portable wooden floor to shield the original from heavy summer traffic. The second floor covering is removed each winter to allow natural air circulation. Like the Heddal Stave Church, Borgund also has a modern water sprinkling system to protect it from the threat of fire. The preservation of these structures is an ongo-ing task.

My next stopover, on that “Highway to Hell”, was Lillehammer, the site of the then upcoming XVII Olympic Winter Games. The Nordic Olympic spirit was alive and well in that mountain town. Our North American television screens were soon to be saturated with the same ambience. The games were held February 12-27, 1994. During the Olympics international athletes had the opportunity to try out the newly constructed ski jump high above Lillehammer. Norway’s early Olympic days extend back to the 1952 Winter Games that were held in Oslo.

I encountered another example of spontaneous English en route north to Trondheim. A radio broadcaster was in the middle of her local news update, when all of a sudden, right in the middle of the road conditions report, she jumped from Norwegian to, “… and the highway to Hell,” and then back to her native tongue once again. My question is, do all Europeans find certain English phrases humorous when strategically placed in a sentence or am I the only one with a sprained funny bone?

On my 26th day of touring I found myself, once again, near the shores of the Baltic Sea in Sweden and staying at the youth hostel in Gavle, northeast of Stockholm. My visit to the National Swedish Railway Museum in Gavle was a spectacular experience. Situated in an old railway roundhouse, the attraction offers a look into Sweden’s railway history with an incredibly large collection of old steam engines and other railway vehicles. The museum is a railway buff’s paradise.

Two days later I was waiting at the Arlanda Airport outside of Stockholm for my international flight back to western Canada, and, as always, I was checking out the selection of outdoor and travel magazines at one of the local newsstands. I found a Swedish language publication that intrigued me. The text of this magazine was in Swedish and the story titles were in English. As I flipped through I found a story on British Columbia’s Bowron Lakes, so I started to read the Swedish text to see if I could make out any more words. On the second line of the first paragraph the name Valemount, B.C. jumped off the page at me. As I continued to scan the lines of Swedish print I found another familiar name, “Henry Olofsson, of Valemount…”, and again I was flabbergasted. I knew Mr. Olofsson during my 17 years of living in Valemount. It’s a small world after all. 

Young Swedish talent during the week-long music festival in Visby, Gotland Sweden
Young Swedish talent during the week-long music festival in Visby, Gotland Sweden
 
On the shores of the Sognefjord a lonely boat waits for summer to come again.
On the shores of the Sognefjord a lonely boat waits for summer to come again.


All Norwegian girls own traditional regalia and each district has it’s own distinct design (from Lillehammer)
All Norwegian girls own traditional regalia and each district has it’s own distinct design (from Lillehammer)
 
Heddal, largest all-wood Norwegian Medieval Stave Church from 1315 AD.
Heddal, largest all-wood Norwegian Medieval Stave Church from 1315 AD.