Diary of a guidebook writer: A last-minute dash to Lillehammer

Photo: David Nikel A display in the new Olympic Museum, which had moved just days before Nikel’s chance visit to Lillehammer. It’s a good thing he made the trip, or he might have included information that was already out of date before the book was even complete!

Photo: David Nikel
A display in the new Olympic Museum, which had moved just days before Nikel’s chance visit to Lillehammer. It’s a good thing he made the trip, or he might have included information that was already out of date before the book was even complete!

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

It’s coming up to 9:00 p.m., pitch-black, and I’ve just passed Hjerkinn station high up in the Dovre mountains. This is the Oslo to Trondheim train and while not as famous as the Bergen Line, it’s still a marvelous train journey. At least, it is when you can see out of the windows!

I’m on my way back to my home in Trondheim after a day trip to Lillehammer. Yes you read that right, a day trip. My day began on the 0823 from Trondheim, arriving in Lillehammer at 1251. This gave me over five hours to get what I needed in Lillehammer before catching the 1817 back to Trondheim.

After a long (and of course, late-night for me) Skype discussion with my new editor at Moon, we decided to move the chapters around, placing Lillehammer in with Oslo rather than lumped in with central Norway. It makes much more sense as to how people travel, but as the Oslo chapter was first on my list it meant Lillehammer needed to be researched—and fast.

A sporting pull
Confession time: I did consider not traveling to Lillehammer. I’d have to get there eventually for photos, but I felt I had enough material from previous visits to be able to write a couple of pages on the town and its attractions. Then I suddenly remembered the town was hosting the Youth Olympic Games, so an opportunity to attend a world sporting event and all the photo opportunities that brought with it was about to pass by. Within minutes, I’d booked my train tickets.

Although I’ve received a reasonable advance from Moon, that money has to cover all my traveling expenses as well as any profit I hope to make from the project. So a day trip was an easy decision, even though it meant spending nine hours on trains and only five hours in Lillehammer.

Photo: David Nikel The sporting flavor of Lillehammer is on display in this fence made of skis.

Photo: David Nikel
The sporting flavor of Lillehammer is on display in this fence made of skis.

The name might be famous, but the town itself is tiny, with the downtown area clustered around just a couple of streets. The real attraction of Lillehammer is up a steep hill at the Olympic venues and Maihaugen outdoor museum, so I headed straight up there, stopping a couple of times to catch my breath. For an asthmatic it’s always a delicate balance between rushing to pack everything into five hours and making sure I don’t run out of breath in the 17F temperatures!

The Youth Olympics was a pleasant surprise, as every event was free to enter. Finally, after almost five years in Norway, I’d found a genuine bargain! This meant I could quickly dip in and out of several venues to take photos and get a sense of what was going on. Amongst other things I caught the quarter-finals of the mixed curling, and the U.S. hockey team taking on Canada in a packed Kristins Hall. Sorry Americans, the Canucks took that game 4-2, although you took revenge on your cousins from the north in the curling competition!

A new location for the Olympic Museum
As much as I wanted to see a medal ceremony, I had to flee the Olympic Park for something that would actually make it into the guidebook: the Olympic Museum. I had visited the museum on previous visits to Lillehammer, but thanks to a chance conversation I discovered it had moved to the Maihaugen open air museum just four days previously! The new location keeps a lot of the exhibits but has more of the digital flavor you’d expect from a modern museum.

That still left almost three hours for a quick look around the gallery, churchyard, and shopping streets, plus a look inside a couple of the city’s hotels. I’m a lot more confident with my camera now, and I was enjoying experimenting in the terrific light conditions. Although the days are still short here, the amount of snow on the ground provides plenty of reflected light to play with.

Culture in the Gudbrandsdalen valley
My last appointment of the day was a quick chat with Hanne Maren Kristensen from the Peer Gynt festival. By complete chance she’d emailed me just a few days before to invite me to the festival in August, so I proposed we meet for a chat over a coffee so I could find out more. The coffee turned into a beer and the chat turned into an interview for my blog, and of course, plenty of important historical and cultural information for inclusion in Moon Norway.

As expected, it was well worth the return visit to Lillehammer to refresh both my memory and my photo bank. The town is never going to demand more than a couple of pages in any guidebook, but by my reckoning it’s how I deal with these smaller places that will define the success of the project.

Now that the chapter outline is finalized, I can plan the rest of my travel in advance and not have to resort to these last-minute day trips. That’s the plan, at least!

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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