Telemark is one of Norway’s 19 counties, with a unique landscape of majestic valleys and hills to offer. It is home to the largest of the remaining stave churches in Norway, the Heddal Stavkyrkje, the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Rjukan and Notodden, the century old Telemark Canal, Mount Gaustatoppen where one could gaze across one sixth of Norway, among others. Last summer, I joined the excursion to Telemark offered by the International Summer School of the University of Oslo. The excursion happened on the second weekend of July, and I had a great time learning more about the history, nature and culture of Norway. As of 2014, there are 171, 333 people living in the county, composing 3.63% of Norway’s population.
We departed from Blindern at around 8 in the morning. I really enjoyed the bus ride conversing with new found friends while looking at the scenery along the way. We passed by Drammen and Lake Eikeren, where Carl and I started our unforgettable hike along Saasenveien.
Our first stop was the little village and parish of Heddal in the Notodden municipality. Its name originated from the river Heddøla and the valley. We visited two famous sites there — the Heddal Stavkyrkje and the Open Air Museum. At around 10:30 AM, we reached the largest of the remaining 28 stave churches in Norway. Stave churches were made with poles, or “staver” in Norwegian. All of them are found in Norway, except for one! The other one is in Sweden.
I was personally amazed to see the facade of the old church, which was built around 1215. It was surreal, and it’s amazing how it had withstand the test of time. Up to now, it is still being used for religious services and ceremonies. And the interior of the church proved to be as interesting as the exterior. I want to write more about the interior, of how some parts are original, etc., but my source is in a Norwegian dialect. 😛 Find more information about the church, the rates and visiting hours, here.
Just across the church is the minister’s barn, a red building housing a cafe, a souvenir shop and exhibit of the history of the church, and the ticket booth. It was unfortunately closed when we visited.
Anyway, there was an interesting folktale surrounding the stave church. It was said that one of the five farmers in Heddal who decided to build a church met a stranger willing to build it for them! There were consequences, however. Raud Rygi, the farmer, had to choose among three options: 1) fetch the moon and sun from the sky, 2) forfeit his life-blood, or 3) guess the stranger’s name. Raud chose the third option, and so, he went to the hills to look for an answer. There, he heard a woman singing a lullaby to her child, telling the young one that Finn would come home with the moon and the sun and the heart of a Christian man! So Raud ran back to the stranger and solved the riddle, making the troll Finn leave as fast as he could. Finn Fairhair, the troll, was said to be responsible also for the construction of some other cathedrals and churches in Norway.
Well, the adventure in Heddal didn’t end there. Just about 300 meters up the hill from the church lies the Heddal Open Air Museum. There, we saw traditional houses built between the 18th and 19th century. Guided by two locals wearing traditional bunad (costumes), we learned a great deal about the life of a typical Norwegian household in earlier times, how they work together to survive the cold and the great distances from their neighbors, how they receive news and guests, etc. We also saw the Norwegian rosemåling, or decorative paintings of floral and geometric motif on the walls and ceilings. This form of decoration also existed in rural Sweden.
It really makes me wonder how small or little Scandinavians were in ancient times… Seriously, how did they manage to fit in the small beds and chairs and dresses? Was there a growth spurt? I have learned from visiting castles in Denmark that they used to sleep sitting down to avoid sleep paralysis, but even if they were sitting down, the beds were too small for the Viking people. Do things shrink over time? Or am I just being st*pid? haha
Anyway, after exploring the Heddal stave church and the open air museum, we ate our packed lunch and hopped on the bus again around noon time. Our second stop on the next entry. 😉
Cheers to amazing stave churches and the amazing Norwegian rural life! #spreadlove