In which our intrepid heroines go for a very long bicycle ride and learn that when Norwegians say that the road is flat… they mean flat compared to a great big pointy mountain coming out of a fjord.
Wednesday, 13th August, Steinvikholm, Stjørdal, and Trøndelag in general
Today was rather an adventure. My friend and I decided to go and visit the castle which inspired our entire stay in this part of Norway – Steinvikholm. Our initial inspiration had come from the delightful discovery that this castle hosts midnight operas. In the castle. On a tidal island. In Norwegian. I mean, really, what reasonable person could resist such a combination? But alas, the opera was not being held this year – and even if it had been, there would have been no way to get there or home. (The somewhat blasé attitude to castles in Europe always astonishes me. I mean, yes, I know they have a lot of them, but surely there are tourists who want to visit them and might like a bus?)
Anyway. The thing you need to know about this castle is that if you don’t have a car, it’s a bit remote. Our host, Stein, offered us bicycles and enthusiastically mapped us out a scenic and ‘not too hilly’ route – well, yes, you could go the direct route, which is 20km in each direction, but the coastal route is so much prettier, and only a few kilometers longer. Hmm. Neither my friend or I are great cyclists and a round trip of 45-50km sounded, shall we say, a little intimidating. We decided to see how we went, and privately agreed that if it was all too far, we would find a nice bit of coastline and go for a swim instead. And there was always the train, to take the edge off things…
We set out first for Stjørdal, which is a bit over 5km from Ersgard. This was made just a little more exciting by the fact that I am short and my bicycle was tall, so that getting on and off required a little hop and a lot of co-ordination. And I am not particularly co-ordinated. This process became increasingly alarming as the day progressed…
Anyway, having reached Stjørdal and noted that we both cycle fairly slowly, we decided that scenic is nice, but actually getting to the castle is better, and so we took a short cut by train (the conductor very kindly helped us get our bicycles up and down the steep Norwegian steps), before cycling another 7km or so up and down the allegedly non-hilly (but very picturesque) landscape to the castle.
It was very beautiful, and the weather was positively golden, but it must be confessed, both of us were rather uneasy when we realised that the final 1-2km or so was down a long, relatively steep hill.
It wasn’t so much the going down that bothered us, you understand, as the prospect of getting back up again…
The castle, though, and the approach to it, were both stunning.
The castle was very much a fortress-like stronghold – built in the 16th century but reminiscent of much earlier buildings.
Also, it was quite isolated – there was a small group of people setting things up for a wedding later in the week, but other than that, we were the only ones there.
We walked across the bridge, admiring the clear fjord water, and settled down for a picnic on the island.
It was very pretty.
Which is why you cannot escape the endless photos… (and if you think I’ve gone overboard, between us, my friend and I took something like 200 photos on this particular day. I have been positively *restrained* here!).
The guide then came and unlocked the castle for us, and showed us around. Apparently, while the castle is generally not very well known, it was in fact the site of Norway’s last stand against the Danes and Protestantism. It was built by Bishop Olaf (not to be confused with Saint Olaf, whose relics were there, or any of the King Olafs, who were also out and about in force), though in the final event, he fled before the Danes arrived. Being a Catholic Bishop was not a very healthy career choice in the event of a Danish invasion.
We could still see where the reservoir was for water, and where the kitchen was.
The castle was eventually taken by seige, as it really had to be – the walls were astonishing, 5 metres thick in some places.
From the island, and especially up in the castle, you can see an incredible distance down the fjord – picturesque and also practical. Also, we were informed that the fjord was safe to swim in, which sounded amazing. Alas, by this stage we could also see a fairly significant thunderstorm boiling up over the hills, looking like smoke from a volcano…
We prudently chose a quick walk around the island instead, before walking back across what was now dry land revealed by the tide, to our bicycles.
… which we walked up the long, long hill, as the thunderstorm pursued us from behind. The weather moves quite slowly in Norway, but so do two not-terribly-athletic women wheeling bicycles up a long, zig-zaggy hill. I think it started drizzling just before we got to the point where we dared to get on our bicycles again. Of course, by now I was tired enough that getting on the bicycle took three tries…
We cycled back to the railway station in increasingly threatening weather, which really settled in to rain just before we got there. But there was shelter at the station, so we sat under it, nibbling on our emergency chocolate and shortbread, and watching the storm bring the horizon closer. And watching a thunderstorm over mountains from inside a glass shelter is pretty glorious.
We had been told by Greta, our hostess, that there was to be a festival in the village of Stjørdal to celebrate the children going back to school, and possibly also the bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution. Alas, the parade was to start at 6pm, Stjørdal is not big, and at 6pm we were still making our way to the station.
Still, we figured that once we were actually in Stjørdal, we might as well look for the festival, assuming it hadn’t been rained out.
Ha. We should have known better. Norwegians don’t stop festivals for rain! If they did that, they would never get to have them! They just put nifty little waterproof things over their wind instruments, and keep right on marching and playing.
And we hadn’t missed the parade, either. It featured, I think, four separate marching bands (one of which included the children of our hosts), a convoy of vintage cars with Norwegian (and occasionally American) flags, a surprising number of martial arts schools, and a mental health awareness group. All to raise money for local schools.
It was very fun. It was also very wet.
We stayed for about an hour, during which time we saw the parade go past at least three times, waved at Greta, bought waffles from the stall manned by Stein, and then decided to ride home before the rain got worse.
And we got lost. Twice.
Also, the rain definitely got worse. Fortunately for me, my friend was wearing a very bright red raincoat and a fluorescent yellow backpack cover, because it didn’t take long for the rain to completely cover my glasses. I couldn’t see a thing. I just followed the bright yellow blur down the road to Ersgard.
While it rained. A lot.
So we got our swim in the fjord after all, it’s just that the fjord was vertical. I was soaked to the skin, and my friend, who had prudently packed a raincoat, was not actually much better off.
But – the hot shower back at home was absolutely heavenly, and it gave me an excuse to lounge around in my beautiful silk robe while I did the washing.
And – we made it, both ways! I am still astonished by this.
In food notes, I am pleased to report that today I tasted my first pickled herring. It is surprisingly nice – light and vinegary. I also got to try brown cheese, a Norwegian specialty to which my friend is rather partial. It’s a rather strange thing – not actually a real cheese at all, I think, but some sort of variant on deeply condensed milk, as it does involve cooking down milk, and the flavour is rather like goat milk caramel.
And we have been informed that tomorrow the air force is having lunch here (which airforce is not clear – reports have varied), which means that they will be making a moose dinner. And there will be leftovers.
Yes indeed, tomorrow we will get to find out what moose tastes like!