Norwegian New Year

Thursday 31 December 2009

When we were invited to Damo and Lena’s place in Norway for a new year’s celebration we jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of our friends’ hospitality and enjoy ringing in the new year amongst great company.

Woke up in Damo and Lena’s bedroom all snuggly under the duvet. Not with them in the bed as well – ha, ha! As the perfect hosts, they gave up their bed for us and slept in the lounge. It’s cold and the trees outside look like they’ve been sprayed with fake snow – but it’s real snow and ice – coating every branch. They look like they are frozen in time.

Last night we went for a walk around Lena’s stepfather’s farm, where they live. It’s in a remote area, tucked inside the forest, near the town of Brandbu, about 75 km north of Oslo. The temperature was something like -18 degrees and the moon was full, penetrating through the frozen mist. It was so cold that our breath was turning to delicate little snow flurries. We walked through this magical winter wonderland, the moonlight making the snow on the ground and the branches sparkle.

The moon rolling across the tree tops of the Norwegian forest.

Damo and Lena live on the top floor of one of the farm buildings. A cute little cozy apartment, all wooden beams and small windows. Lena’s mother Wenka and her husband Hans live in the main farmhouse, a huge two-hundred year old, wood-clad structure. Inside the construction is all wood, including wood panelled walls and ceilings, and there’s no central heating but some rooms are heated by wood burners. The Norwegian houses are so well-insulated that they retain the heat from just a wood burning stove. I was surprised that they are actually much warmer than our house in Brighton.

Lena’s parents are lovely people. I felt so welcome and at ease with them. We sat around in one of the rooms that they kept heated, drinking beer and aquavit.

They showed us the other rooms in the house on the ground floor which they keep shut up in the winter. The temperature in these rooms was something like -10 degrees. You could see your breath freeze. No wonder they don’t use those rooms!

I can understand why Damo left England to come here, and why he loves it so much. It’s beautiful, the people are warm and friendly – and it’s in the middle of nowhere. He was never really a city bloke. He must feel a great affinity with his surroundings here.

On the farm.

Tonight we’re going out to the cabin on the lake for new year’s eve. I am going to embrace the situation wholeheartedly and even throw aside my vegetarianism to partake of the elk roast. We’ll see what this new year is like. I think it will only get better.

Even the air sparkles here as ice crystals fall off the branches and flit slowly down past the window, glittering and twisting in the weak sunlight.

Damien and Lena’s 91-year-old neighbour is quite a handful. She lives in the ground floor apartment of the smaller farm house that they live in, and every time she hears someone enter the foyer she appears at her door demanding firewood. It must be a lonely existence for her. She is Hans’s aunt and has lived on the farm her entire life. There’s nothing for an old person to do here in the winter, nowhere to go, and the only people she must see are Damo, Lena, Wenka and Hans. She must be so desperate to talk to someone that as soon as someone comes in she just babbles away. I even heard her talking away in Norwegian to Peter, who just replied ‘Ja, Ja’ the whole time! Ha,ha!

1 January 2010

It’s quiet and there are sleeping-bagged bodies lying everywhere and there’s an acute chill in the air. The day after the night before. But last night … last night was magical. This has got to be one of the most memorable new year’s eves ever. In this little gingerbread log cabin in the frozen Norwegian forest on an icy lake, we drank glog, ate elk and revelled until the early hours.

I threw my vegetarian sensibilities to the wind when I was assured the elk was free range and had lived a happy life roaming the pine forest.

Earlier in the day, Lena and I stayed back at the farm to prepare the food while the boys went up to the cabin to warm it up and get it ready for everyone. Lena and I packed up the food, loaded up the ancient Volvo and set out through the woods to the cabin. The snow was coming down quite heavily and even the sturdy Volvo had to go slowly to keep its grip in the deep snow. By the time we arrived, the boys had the home fires burning and had lit candles all around the cabin, with woolly blankets and duvets on the chairs around the fire. The glog was on the go and the sweet smell of mulled wine filled the dark air.

New Year’s eve in the log cabin.

Ringing in the new year in the teepee in the snowy pine woods.

By this time Peter was very, very drunk and was lying in the snow on the frozen lake.

We rang in the new year, toasting with our cups of  glog, sat in the snow under a candlelit tepee, which Damo had set up outside. It was truly amazing and unforgettable. It snowed a little, lending a romantic beauty to the walk to the outhouse, which was across the lane from the cabin nestled amongst the snowy pines. The sky lit itself without any streetlights or any torches. Candlelight and moonlight reflected off the snow and the atmosphere. Although there were no mod-cons, I enjoyed myself. I was warm despite the lack of central heating. The flames in the fireplace were warm enough. I even slept decently, clad in my yellow selk bag and cramped into a narrow little bed with Peter. Everyone was sprawled here and there on 1950s Scandinavian furniture.

The ultimate in toilet luxury, Norwegian style…an outhouse. Note, some joker put a disabled wc sign on it.

This is truly a fairy tale place, where Hansel and Gretl would have met their child-hungry wicked witch. Unchanged for decades and decades, I bet these log walls could tell some stories. I feel good. I’ve just spent the best new year’s eve with wonderful people.

Little log cabin

So sweet you could eat it

Like a gingerbread house

Nestled in the sugar snow

Smiles as she is warmed from inside

And her windows wink with the life flickering from within.

Another new year, another new decade

And still she stands under an ice cream moon

Her chocolate log walls solid and loving

Offering friends shelter

In the icing-glazed woods of Norway.

Sunday 3 January 2010

We’re on the plane back to Blighty but the memory of the short holiday in Norway lingers. I still feel like I’ve got a hat on my head!

We passed some time in Oslo today, walking around and getting a feel for the architecture and atmosphere. It was really too cold to be outside, so we went for a hot chocolate at the cross country skiing place.

We had to see the royal palace and the city centre so we strolled around, trying not to wipe out on the icy pavements. We didn’t really spend much time getting to know Oslo, so I can’t say too much about it. But it seems like a nice, clean, safe  and attractive place.

Peter and I in front of the royal palace in Oslo.

Last night we attempted cross-country skiing in the field at the farm. It took me a while to even get the skis on. I had to swop shoes with Lena, as the ones I had kept coming off the skis. We also played on the sledge like kids. It was an old-fashioned wood and metal thing with a seat at the front and long runners at the back that you kick along.

Cross country skiing

Anyway, later, despite Damo’s protests about MSG and rubber chickens we went to the Lung Garden Chinese restaurant to meet some of Lena’s mates. It was the only restaurant around, so was a popular meeting place. On our way there in the big beast of a Volvo, an elk majestically stepped out in front of us, lit by the glowing moon that seemed to roll along the tops of the roofs. It stood for a moment, for us to see – an antlerless female – before ambling across the road and disappearing off into the pines.

So our Norwegian experience was complete. We saw the famed, elusive elk. Then we enjoyed an expensive and mediocre Chinese meal, socialised with Lena’s friends a bit and then headed back to the farm.

It was a jolly, relaxed last evening, drinking, eating and playing yatzy. Lena and I went over to the main house to get some games and I went upstairs. What a strange house. Furniture and general things were stored higgledy-piggledy in icy cold, dark, disused rooms. There were a couple of greeny-blue leatherette 80s style easy chairs and a few mattresses thrown about. It really was a weird place – sparse and neglected in places. With some TLC the house could be amazing.

Damian had taken us on a tour of the farm outbuildings earlier in the day. It was no longer a working farm and had long ago fallen into disrepair. There’s an old grain and feed store, which Damo thought could be turned into a pub. Then there was a big building where the animals were kept at one time, and all the old feeding troughs and water pipes were still there, all rusted and corroded. In the third building, where they kept the firewood and the boat, there was this really weird little room out the back, with an old-fashioned meat grinder, a fishing net, some ribs and bones from an animal long dead, and bizarre carvings in the wall of letters, strange shapes and Norwegian writing. There was a beautiful, old Scandinavian shelf with drawers underneath and a cupboard on top with heart shapes carved into the thick wood. The whole place was full of rusty, old bikes and old-fashioned cross country skis. It was a market stall owner’s treasure trove. Stuff like that would sell like hotcakes at the Brighton Sunday market. The place was amazing, but there really was a lot of work to be done there. It would take one person a virtual lifetime to get it all restored to its original glory.

Damo’s pub

All words and pictures (c) Kerry Boettcher, 2012