Progress along St. Olav’s Way: The sights from Hamar to Lillehammer

Photos: (above) Øyvind Holmstad / Wikimedia Commons The stave church (Garmo stave church) at Maihaugen country museum in Lillehammer, Norway.

Photos: (above) Øyvind Holmstad / Wikimedia Commons
The stave church (Garmo stave church) at Maihaugen country museum in Lillehammer, Norway.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

I am continuing my journey from Oslo to Nidaros along St. Olav’s Way. I have completed Legs A-E of the Sons of Norway Virtual Pilgrimage. I have now walked 207 miles and reached Otta.

In this progress report I’ll share some of the highlights that I have experienced on Leg C, from Hamar to Lillehammer.

Hamar Pilgrim Center
This is one of five regional Pilgrim Centers along the Gudbrandsdalen path. Here I had a wonderful view of Lake Mjøsa and the ruins of Hamar Cathedral. One can spend the night for NOK 300.

Skibladner from Hamar to Gjøvik
In my last report I told you about the Skibladner, a paddle steamer that operates on Lake Mjøsa. You can board the steamer here in Hamar and go across the lake to Gjøvik.

You can reach Gjøvik by other means as well. You can take a reconstructed Viking ship if you are feeling ambitious. Or, if you are in a hurry, you can take a small jet boat.

Gjøvik is a beautiful town in Oppland County. It is one of the five largest towns on Lake Mjøsa. It grew in importance and population when the Gjøvik Glassworks was established in 1807. I visited the Glassworks and watched glassblowers making amazing objects in the glassblowers’ hut.

Perhaps this town’s primary claim to fame are the fish hooks that are sold all around the world. This industry was started in 1877 by Ole Mustad. His salesmen went around the world selling their fish hooks, and the company soon dominated the market.

An amazing attraction here is the Gjøvik Olympic Cavern Hall, an ice hockey rink built inside a mountain, that seats 550 spectators. It was built in 1994 for the Winter Olympics.

My next stop was Brumunddal, the largest town in the municipality of Ringsaker in Hedmark County. It is found at the end of the Brumunda River that flows into Lake Mjøsa.

Ringsaker is a farming area and has many large farms that are among the oldest in Norway. Many of these farms are mentioned in the Old Norse sagas. Farm tourism is a thriving business here.

Photo: CH / Visit Norway Shopping in wintry Lillehammer.

Photo: CH / Visit Norway
Shopping in wintry Lillehammer.

The Prøysen Cottage (Prøysenhuset)
I had never heard of Alf Prøysen, but I decided to visit his Museum and Childhood Home to learn something about him. I thought he must be someone important!

I learned that he was one of the best-known cultural personalities of the 19th century in Norway. He was a talented musician and writer. He wrote many children’s books and his most popular character was Mrs. Pepperpot. One of his most popular songs was “Du Skal Få En Dag i Mårå” and you can see a cartoon with this song on YouTube at

Ringsaker Church
This white stone church, located in Moelv, is considered by many to be the most beautiful church in Norway. It was dedicated to St. Olav and was probably built in the 12th century.

If you would like to hear a choir perform in this church, go to

Tolvsteinringen (The Twelve Stones Ring), Moelv
This ring of twelve stones, each one weighing seven tons, reminded me of Stonehenge, which I visited in England many years ago. It is believed that Tolvsteinringen dates back 2,500 years. Like Stonehenge, the purpose of this monument is a mystery. One legend is that a very important man was burned and buried in the middle of this circle.

Mjøsa Bridge
A bridge was built in 1985 from Moelv to Biri, thus linking the counties of Hedmark and Oppland. Construction will begin in 2018 on a new concrete bridge just south of the current Mjøsa Bridge.

Biri is a small town best known for Madshus, a company that has been making handmade skis for Olympic as well as amateur athletes since 1906.

Biri Kirke is another beautiful white church. If you would like to hear marvelous music in this church, go to and listen to Sissel Morken Gullord play two traditional lullabies, “Gjendines bådnlåt” and “Sov og drøm du engel blid,” on a goat’s horn.

Sigstad Gård (Farm)
After visiting the Biri Church, I walked over to the Sigstad farm, which has been owned by the Sigstad family since the 1600s. It is now a working farm with 640 acres of trees and corn. It is also a venue for wedding receptions and a conference center with rooms for 50 guests.

If you would like to see several photos of this beautiful farm, go to the farm’s website at

Biristrand Camping (Overnight location)
I stopped for the night at the Biristrand Camp. It is located on the shores of Lake Mjøsa, a scenic location that is very convenient for pilgrims on St. Olav’s Way.

Photo: Kirkesø The interior of Vingrom Kirke, with bright red pews.

Photo: Kirkesø
The interior of Vingrom Kirke, with bright red pews.

Vingrom Kirke
I think I have found the loveliest church of all—the Vingrom Kirke! It was built in 1908 in what is called the “elongated style,” that is, it is long in the east-west direction. This style, which is the most common one in Norway and dates back to the Middle Ages, is meant to symbolize the sacred road that goes from east to west.

The church’s exterior is white, as most of the churches that I have seen so far are. But I was quite amazed at the interior. First of all, the pews are red! And the balcony and pulpit are a lovely shade of blue.

After visiting the church, I walked over to the Hov farm, which was a pagan meeting place before the arrival of Christianity.

Lillehammer is smaller than I expected. Its population is only 30,000. But this city is quite well known around the world because it was the very successful host of the 1994 Winter Olympics.

I went, of course, to the Olympic Park, one of the most popular tourist destinations.
The exhibit that I found most interesting in the museum was the presentation of the entire history of the Olympic Games from their origin in Greece in 776 BC up to the present day.

Lillehammer does offer many other interesting attractions. Let me mention a few.

Maihaugen, one of the largest open-air museums in Europe, is a definite must-see. It has over 200 historic and modern buildings and I learned a lot about Norwegian history from the Middle Ages to modern times. I encountered many actors along the way, representing people from various time periods.

If you want to visit this museum yourself, go to YouTube for a very interesting video tour at

Sigrid Undset’s Home, Bjerkebæk
I am a great admirer of the author Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Bjerkebæk is a very easy walk from the center of Lillehammer. After visiting the home where she had written many of her books, I looked around the shop, which offered many interesting items for sale (including copies of her books, of course!) and stopped in the café for a quick snack.

Undset is best known for her trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter, which is set in medieval Norway. I have read each of those books twice and I am sure I will read them again. I am completely enthralled by the characters, the story, and the superb descriptions of the culture, geography, and history of Norway at this time. They are unforgettable books.

Lillehammer Art Museum
I am a lover of art as well as literature, and I was thrilled with my visit to the Lillehammer Art Museum, which was established in 1994. It is the perfect place to learn about Norwegian art, as it has a collection of approximately 1,400 works by Norwegian artists from the 1800s until today. I discovered some of my favorite Norwegian artists, e.g. Edvard Munch, Johan Christian Dahl, and Christian Krogh, and learned about ones unfamiliar to me such as Harriet Backer (featured in an article in NAW, February 13), Hans Gude, Adolph Tidemand, Erik Werenskiold, and Eilif Peterssen.

Lillehammer kirke
I concluded my Lillehammer visit at the Lillehammer Kirke. This lovely church is also in the elongated style. It was built in 1882 after an older church on the site, a small cruciform wooden church, was demolished. The new church is made of unpolished red bricks in the Gothic Revival style.

Still many miles to go
In my next report I will share with you the highlights of Leg D: Lillehammer to Hunsdorp. I have finished Leg E as well, which means I have surpassed the half way mark. I have 180 miles to go. It is a long way, but I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I am learning a great deal about this beautiful country of my ancestors!

This article originally appeared in the March 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.