Travel to Norway with Vesterheim in 2024
Viking history, Christmas markets, and good beer
Cynthia Elyce Rubin
The Norwegian American
I have always believed that travel broadens a person’s horizon. My very first trip outside the country was as a participant in The Experiment in International Living, a program based in Brattleboro, Vt. I lived with two French-speaking families in Switzerland; one in a village, Les Brenets, and the other in the nearby city, La Chaux-de-Fonds, in the Swiss watch region. At college, I had researched that Ruth Freiburghaus from Zurich had won an exchange student scholarship. After some old-fashioned mail exchanges, she visited me in Les Brenets. The next year, she became my college roommate for one year, the beginning of a friendship that, after so many years, remains strong.
Later, during my New York museum career, I organized a traveling exhibition on Swiss folk art and wrote and lectured on the subject. Travel can be an authentic connection that leads one to a deeper understanding of a country and the world and can influence what one does in life. If one is fortunate enough to immerse oneself in a country’s culture with tour leaders who share their knowledge, it is a rich bonus. Vesterheim does this significantly with its tour program.
For more than 40 years, Vesterheim has been providing educational tours to Norway, offering unique experiences based on the museum’s relationships with Norwegian artists and institutions. The organizers spend much time researching topics and making contacts so that each tour participant has a true “behind-the-scenes” introduction to Norway’s various regions, as well as the Norwegian people. In addition, there are lasting friendships made along the way.
Rolf Svanoe, tour coordinator and relatively new addition to the Vesterheim staff, is perfectly positioned with his professional expertise and personality.
He describes the household he grew up in as one that emphasized all things Norwegian. Both of his parents had Norwegian roots. Rolf’s father, Ansgar, grew up on the west coast of Norway and immigrated to America in 1919. Rolf’s mother, Melva, traced roots in Valdres, Numedal, and Hallingdal.
The Svanoe name comes from the island Svanøy in the west coast region of Sunnfjord. Rolf’s great-great-great grandfather bought the island in 1804 and took the name for himself. In 1814, he was elected to represent the area at the special assembly that met in Eidsvoll to draft the Nowegian Constitution, and he was one of its signers. Rolf attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., and then Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. He always showed a dedicated love for his Norwegian heritage with his parishioners, leading him to conduct tours to Norway and Europe.
When I asked Rolf about Vesterheim’s 2024 tours, he described them as “both old and new.” The Thousand Years History of Norway tour has been done before, but it is now tweaked to make it less physically challenging than the 2019 version. It stays mainly in the Oslo area with day trips. The guide, Knut Werner Hagen, a retired military historian, is an excellent teacher who only guides for Vesterheim. Topics include the significance of the Vikings, the Plague, the Reformation, 19th-century emigration, and World War II. Role-play a crew member on a Viking ship; travel to Eidsvoll, the cradle of Norwegian democracy; visit the South Dakotan one-room Leet-Christopher schoolhouse at the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad, a project dear to my heart; board the authentic paddle steamer, Skibladner and view beautiful scenery as you sail south on Norway’s Lake Mjøsa. And lots more.
The Skål Norwegian Beer Brewing tour is Rolf’s original creation. The tour combines visits to six microbreweries on the west coast of Norway with education about ale bowls from Norwegian expert Sverre Strandenes. Vesterheim owns many beautiful ale bowls, and one of the outdoor Heritage Park buildings was a drying shed used for brewing beer and drying grain. Rolf believed the popular subject a timely fit for Vesterheim and is offering two tours back to back.
The Christmas Markets tour is one that was done years ago but not recently. It visits Maihaugen’s Christmas Market in Lillehammer, a city filled with the festive holiday spirit, and the traditional Christmas market in Oslo. Visit the Garmo Stave Church at the Maihaugen Folk Museum, the largest open-air museum in the country, and attractions like the Hadeland Glass factory outside of Oslo. Learn about Norwegian Christmas traditions and folk arts and experience Christmas koselig or coziness with a horse-drawn sleigh ride, a visit to the family-owned Henning Master Woodcarver shop with handicrafts and nativity sets carved by hand since 1947, and taste Norwegian culinary specialties at a local farm’s authentic julebord or Christmas dinner.
Meanwhile, Vesterheim Tours is already planning for 2025 and the 200th anniversary celebration of the first organized emigration from Norway. An emigration-themed tour will be in Stavanger on July 4 for the big celebration, as well as exciting new Textile and Folk Art Tours.
This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.