The Odden Rural Life Tour through Norway
Christine Foster Meloni
This article is the final installment in the “Norway’s roads less traveled” series. The author is Christina (Tina) Keune, who participated in the sixth Odden Rural Life Tour in August 2017 and describes her wonderful experience below.
Appetites for both traditional Norwegian food and Norwegian folk art are fulfilled for travelers on an Odden Rural Life Tour. Led by husband and wife team, Philip and Else Bigton of Barronett, Wisconsin, participants on this sixth tour “focused on rural life, folk arts, and how people live in modern Norway as well as how they lived at the time of immigration to North America.”
The August trip lasted 12 days. Our modern coach brought us to historic farm manor houses, artisan studios, music venues, and facilities preserving wooden masterpieces on land and sea. The route from Oslo took us north through Lillehammer and westward through the Otta Valley to Geiranger and Ålesund. We then proceeded south through the Nordfjord region to the classic Stalheim hotel that hosts not only international guests but also its own rich collection of traditional vernacular buildings and a museum of folk art.
After we arrived at Gardermoen Airport, our roomy bus whisked us out to the scenic countryside where we were warmly greeted with cakes and coffee at the home and studio of Arve Mosand, a master carver, cabinetmaker, and silversmith. Later, we were welcomed to a sumptuous dinner at the historic manor house, Gjestrum farm, for rural Norwegian hospitality at its best, and spent the first night in Lillehammer.
Lillehammer offers two major attractions: the spectacular ski jump built for the 1994 Olympics and the Maihaugen Museum, complete with relocated farms, village buildings, and the museum/concert hall facility. Philip gave an excellent explanation of many of the structures, thanks to his rich background in all things wood. Later, we rode toward the Rondane National Park to spend the night at the Venabu Fjellhotel. We relaxed after dinner to local folk tunes by an accomplished fiddler.
On Day 4 we proceeded through the Otta valley via Vågå for a stop at Stokk og Stein. The owner Edvin Espelund acts as the government’s representative to advise farm owners how to preserve their old buildings. He himself also builds new structures.
Our next stop was the lovely 12th-century stave church in Lom in Oppland County. We then were treated to coffee and cake up the road at the farm of Kristian Sulheim, whose family has owned it for several generations.
The famous historic Elveseter Hotel was our overnight destination. It hosts a myriad of famous 19th-century genre art complemented with collections of silver, textiles, and carvings that have served as inspiration to both Philip and Else during their careers as master carvers. The dining room decor was reminiscent of a Viking setting, but the food was definitely generous and modern.
On our way to Ålesund, we paused for a spectacular view of Geiranger, a World Heritage Site. We then boarded a car ferry that landed us at Hellesylt’s Peer Gynt Galleriet (www.peergyntgalleriet.no) to see a collection of life-sized figures carved in panels depicting the classic Peer Gynt Norwegian folk story. A welcome dinner was served at our modern harborside hotel in picturesque Ålesund. We toured both a modern and humane fish-processing factory and the Sunnmøre Museum. Together they demonstrated the early ingenuity of Norwegian enterprise dating back to Viking times and the dramatic span of technology.
On Day 7 we headed for some of Norway’s most spectacular west coast scenery. The afternoon surprise was a stop at the early 1900s cultural hall impeccably maintained to the period. It shares its hillside with a sheep farm owned by a Norwegian national treasure named Arne Sølvberg. He and his wife, Asbjørg, presented a masterful program of music and dance. Arne plays four instruments starting with a reed pipe, followed by a Hardanger fiddle, a conventional fiddle, and a recorder. The performance was crowned with a catered buffet.
On Day 8 horsing around at the Fjord Horse Center at Nordfjordeid was the morning activity. This recently expanded facility safeguards, promotes, and develops the breed; offers mountain rides on horses or wagons; and educates riders and trainers (www.norsk-fjordhestsenter.no).
Odden Tours include impromptu stops that focus on Norway’s growing appreciation of its heritage. That afternoon’s pause found us in the quiet edgewater village of Stryn. We stared in awe at the half-finished recreation of the full-sized Viking era Myklebust ship excavated in 1874. Slated for completion in the spring of 2019, it will measure 100 feet long and 21 feet wide. This rivet-built vessel is being built by local craftsmen whose boatbuilding ancestors go back centuries (sagastad.no).
From Viking ships one day to mountain-climbing trains at Flåm the next, our bus then delivered us to the legendary Stalheim Hotel in the Sogn region. The next morning a Stalheim guide took us through a medieval log home and a school building in their collection, providing insight into the daily routines of their inhabitants.
A visit to the new Hardanger National Park Museum on the mountain plains in Eidfjord was an unexpected bonus addition to the tour itinerary.
The road to Bergen took us through the world’s longest and coolest tunnel, Lærdalstunnelen. Once there, we enjoyed an orientation to Bergen and took a city tour. We spent a very special afternoon at Troldhaugen (troldhaugen.no), the home of famous composer Edvard Grieg, with an artistic lunch followed by a memorable piano program. A day to explore the city on our own ended with a final group dinner when we were able to celebrate our new friendships.
The Oddens are meticulous tour organizers and leaders. Based on years of relationships, this trip achieved its goal of demonstrating and explaining Norway’s unique past and present cultural traditions with an emphasis on warm hospitality.
Information about the 2018 Tour of Norway and Sweden may be found at www.norskwoodworks.com.
Christina Keune has been a professional heritage artist of traditional Norwegian and Swedish folk art since 1983. She has pursued independent folk art studies, traveling to Norway 11 times. She maintains a studio in Arlington, Va. Please visit her website at www.tinakeune.com.
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.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.