In Gudbrandsdalen, reality is the museum
The justly world-famous Maihaugen museum is merely a primer for this incredible valley
Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American
One of the principal tourist attractions in Lillehammer—aside from the quaint and koselig town itself—is Maihaugen. And for good reason! In this open-air museum with over 200 historical buildings you’ll see farms and villages full of old wooden buildings, moved there from all over Gudbrandsdalen. You’ll see animals and reenactors performing little plays on-site. You may be able to taste porridge, get a lesson on Norwegian vowels, or watch how the old men in their busserulls would have watered the fields in days of yore. It goes on and on, with a pond or two, a stave church from the 1200s, fishing cabins, and if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, the gorgeous Norwegian scenery.
Maihaugen also houses a postal musuem and the new and improved Olympics Museum (covered by David Nikel in our February 26, 2016, issue). All of this I knew.
What I did not know about Maihaugen is its more modern side. Moving out of the 1800s, one can stroll up and down a street of history, with one house from each decade of the 20th century. The collection is not entirely complete: two more houses have been promised to round off the century, including Queen Sonja’s childhood home to represent the 1930s. Work began this September to move the house, with its projected opening in 2018 in time for the royal couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.
The houses are fully outfitted in period-accurate furnishings, down to small details like a messy kid’s room and quirky collections. Here too you’ll encounter actors inhabiting their house. I had the loveliest chat with “Camilla,” a teenager from the 1980s, who likes to read romances while her jet-setting parents are away on vacation and dreams of marrying Michael Jackson. The lady of the 1950s house showed me her new windows and appliances, while I peeked at what was in the pantry (photo in front page teaser).
The houses in Maihaugen are cosy enough that the king and queen themselves stay in one of them when they visit Lillehammer. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!
Out of the museum
If your journeys are taking you past Lillehammer, you may notice a certain synchronicity between Maihaugen and the valley at large. In Ringebu, visit the stave church. It’s much larger than the one in Maihaugen, as you’d expect. (Though why shouldn’t the one in in the museum be huge? It is, after all, a real stave church that originally stood on the farm Garmo in Lom).
Coming from America, where we either tear our history down or put it behind velvet ropes, it struck me as phenomenally strange to learn that the Ringbu church is still in use, still the main religious institution of the town. But then, even the church in Maihaugen is used for weddings and the like. Still, one has to wonder how there is still room to bury people in the churchyard of a church that’s been in use for eight centuries.
The stave church at Ringebu was built around the year 1220, and is one of the largest of the surviving 28 stave churches in Norway. It’s also bright red!
Just a bit farther along the road is a marvelous hotel, which we’ve written about a bit in prior issues, Sygard Grytting (most recently featured in “Progress along St. Olav’s Way: Gudbrandsdalen’s farms and history” by Christine Foster Meloni, June 12, 2015, www.norwegianamerican.com/travel/progress-along-st-olavs-way-gudbrandsdalens-farms-and-history).
So I was extremely excited to stay in the medieval pilgrim’s stop I’d heard so much about. Stig Grytting greeted me there in his bunad, a costume he wore for the benefit of the night’s guests, most of whom were there to see Peer Gynt.
If you learned about how typical farmhouses of the 1800s were laid out at Maihaugen (which you almost couldn’t help), here again you’ll see it in practice. Many of the buildings at Sygard Grytting are actually much older than that, dating to the medieval era. The farm lies along St. Olav’s way and has been used as a stop for pilgrims for much of the last millennium. This is a real working farm, and some of the buildings mirror those in Maihaugen exactly.
I had the mixed pleasure of sleeping in one of the medieval buildings, in a bed that was once food storage, under a pile of sheep skins to keep warm. And it was warm under there! Going to the shared bathroom outside and up the stairs? Less warm. But totally worth it for the experience, of course! The hotel also has a number of more comfortable rooms available. And the locally sourced dinner, many of the ingredients right off the farm, was a highlight of my trip.
A special treat
My journey included one visit you won’t find in your guidebook. We’d driven up a hill outside of Vinstra to take a look at the historical Per Gynt’s house, and in a lucky break its owner invited us in for coffee.
The part of the structure that Per (or Peder) Olson Hågå once lived in again mirrors what you’ve seen in Maihaugen. There was really only one layout in homes of the sort, down to the direction they faced. This one had, however, been updated with some of the earmarks of a hotel room. I asked Mikkel Doblaug, the owner, about this, and he admitted that he used to run it as a boutique hotel. At the moment he only rents to groups. But you can look at what might have been at pergynt.no (Norwegian only; not to be confused with peergynt.no, which is the Peer Gynt Festival’s page). His hotel was once ranked the eighth best in the world by Tatler!
Imagine staying in Per Gynt’s house on the way to watch the Peer Gynt Festival’s production of Ibsen’s play. Doblaug indicated that it’s not totally unthinkable that he would reopen at some point. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the play’s writing, and a special new production is planned for the festival. More on this to come.
The real Per Gynt, incidentally, was a teller of tall tales and an unconventional fellow, but unlike Ibsen’s fictional character was highly respected. Just one more way in which the reality of Gudbransdalen interescts with its more famous façade.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.