Julafton & God Jul: Christmas Eve & Merry Christmas
We left Stockholm on Sunday, Dec. 22nd, having rented a 9 passenger van (late rental = limited options for something large enough to haul our skis around). Good news is that a 9 passenger van + all our stuff = plenty of room to stuff the Christmas tree in as well- so we did! 8 hour drive from Stockholm to Lillehammer- no snow until we hit the border with Norway. Beautiful to come up along the lake and into Lillehamer- snow banks galore.
Linda & Steve rented a lovely airbnb an easy walk to town. They flew into Oslo and took the train up, staying Sat. night to get over their jetlag.
Happy to be out of the car, the kids could hardly resist not sharing the surprise we'd hauled with us... so we pulled out the tree and soon had it set up again, ornaments homemade in Sweden with the help of my mom earlier in December. Nice to have a comfy living room full of books to read too!
We've had a great week exploring the cross country ski trails so far... one could spend a lifetime doing so as there are 2,300 kilometers of trails between 11 different ski areas. Day 1 (Monday, Dec. 23rd) saw us based out of the Birkebeiner Ski Stadium- home to the 1994 Olympic venue for both nordic (cross country) skiing and biathlon (skiing & shooting). I had the good fortune of being able to come to Norway in 1994 and watch a week of the Winter Olympics- the town of Lillehamer is much quieter (and certainly has no Russian ski coaches serenading me at dinner!).
Day 1 of skiing: a shorter than longer ski (it took us a while to figure out all of our gear) followed by waffles, glogg, and tea in the lodge... yum!
Chris and Stephen decided to ski back to town- an exciting 7 km decent off the hill and into the upper reaches of the town (photo below = passing by the biathlon range)
We were ready for some final Christmas shopping on the very quaint shopping street. A long stop to watch them make sugar and cinnamon coated almonds, dinner, and a robust game of "cultural icon"-- a mix of charades and a word game.
Day 2 and Christmas Eve found us up further at Nordestad- a small town high in the hills. After a lovely ski around a lake (which we could only occasionally see), we sent Linda, Steve and Elizabeth in for some pastries while Stephen, Chris and I skied another loop, leaving Stephen flat on the ground
I'm tired, say Stephen...
Linda, Steve and Elizabeth managed to quickly grab a few pastries as the folks at the store were adamant about closing- we'd been warned in Sweden that nothing is open on 24 December. The same seems to be true after a certain point in Norway. As we drove down through Nordestad, quite a few people were dressed in nice clothes and walking down the road- perhaps headed to church? Some on sleds... welcome to Norway. For our part, after a dinner of smoked salmon and black rice and some time spend on a puzzle, we walked through the very quiet streets of Lillehammer, watching the snow drift down and admiring the many lights, candles, and festive cheer in the many house windows.
We're not quite sure of Norwegian holiday traditions, but the Swedes apparently visit family on Christmas eve for a Christmas julbord (smorgasbord), and at 3 pm, collectively (as a country), watch a Disney Christmas special called Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul: “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.” I'm not making up the Disney bit; see for example this Slate article on it. The Disney special is followed by a visit by Jultomten (Santa Claus) and an evening with family. We had our own quiet evening- just right for a quiet night in December.
Christmas morning and a chance to open presents, eat Swedish pancakes, then go for another ski- back to the Birkebeiner Stadium and some gorgeous views as the sky lifted a bit.
Stephen tried skate skiing for really the first time and managed to ski 23 kilometers- a hefty distance when you are figuring out how to do something! Loads of people out on every sort of ski- class, skating, sleds, dogs pulling people, quite a scene...
Everyone was a bit tired today but the weather was supposed to be good and clear, so we rallied for yet another spot to explore: Sjusjøen. High up on the plateau above Lillehammer, I wasn't sure what to expect when we pulled into the parking lot-- but I wasn't expecting a vast parking lot leading to a veritable super highway for x-c skiing... and not just a few skiers, but hundreds of all ages: little kids to grandparents, racers to tourists. We were rewarded with absolutely stunning views and even a view of the sun: rising, moving across the sky, and the longest sunset, that we've ever seen... fun day of skiing and we're enjoying some quiet before dinner.
Sunrise (at 9:30 AM), and the alpenglow on the trees (at about 2:30 PM)
Out skiing- I didn't even try to capture the sheer number of people out skiing... just photos of our collective crew.
The light across the plateau was out of this world beautiful, the snow sparkling like a million diamonds in every direction. Not sure why the sky shows so dark in the photos below, but perhaps given the absolute brilliance of the snow?
We again parted ways, sending Steve, Linda and Elizabeth back on a shorter loop while Chris, Stephen and I headed to the tops of all the nearby hills... these photos don't show the pinky orange of the sky beyond, nor our feelings of fatigue as the trail headed up another hill. Today is the day that Stephen outskied me on cross country skis!
The sun setting did show up as a spectacular light show.
A movie of the alpenglow all around
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