Magical Norway Part 2: Rjukan

In Oslo we walked and took public transport to get around but in the countryside, we traveled by bus. I spent a lot of time watching the landscape through the panoramic windows, in awe of my surroundings. I hope these photos can give you a sense of what it’s like to be in the mountains of Norway with just your thoughts and all the time in the world.

We left Oslo right after breakfast. It was sunny even though the weather forecast told us to expect rain and clouds the entire week.

The movement of the bus pulling into the parking lot of the Heddal stave church woke me up from my nap. Breathing in the cold air, I forgot about my fatigue as I saw the church standing in the morning light.

For the first time this fall, I could see my breath fog up.

Walking around the church, I saw gravestones decorated with magenta heather and small lanterns. By the low stone wall, frost-kissed mushrooms peeked out into the peaceful morning.

The sun lies low in Norway, making the countryside very photogenic. I love the contrast of shadow and light and how a single bunch of grass stands out, all backlit and glowing.

This photo is from the forest at the foot of the mountain before we crossed the wooden bridge and drove up a winding path to Tjønnås Eco-Farm (website, Instagram, Facebook).

The best way I could describe Norway to my friends back home was that it’s like “Vermont on steroids.”

The kind of incline you don’t see in Denmark.
The coziest guest cabin with lots of hand-built details.

At the farm, I made bread for the first time and decorated my loaf with flowers. Along with the coffee ground scrub from Gruten, we now had two meaningful (and biodegradable) souvenirs from our time in Norway. If you’re in this core course in the future, make sure to leave room in your luggage for unusually shaped items!

Saying goodbye!

On our way to the hotel, we stopped by Stavsro Kafe for the view because, as you already know, this class travels for the journey, not the destination.

Even though it was foggy, there were colors all around us: ochres, yellows, warm browns, lichen green, and maybe even tinges of dark cerulean. I also notice this in Denmark – it’s not all gray, you just need to look.

Staying at Gaustablikk Høyfjellshotell was such a treat! The lobby was full of cozy chairs surrounding the fireplace, there was a sauna and pool downstairs, walking trails around the beautiful lake, and a perfect view of Mount Gaustatoppen.

Up in the mountains of Rjukan, the air was so clear and crisp, it smelled like winter and any lingering thoughts of winter bathing disintegrated when I stepped off the bus.

On our second day in Rjukan, which is actually a UNESCO Industrial Heritage Site, we passed through the Vestfjord valley. This valley is so deep that the sun doesn’t reach the bottom for almost six months of the year — instead, there are sun mirrors to reflect light to the town square in the winter months. Originally part of a plan to make sure workers got their vitamin D, the mirrors are now one of Rjukan’s many attractions.

Rjukan Square, the sunniest spot in town.
Catching a glimpse of Vemork, the hydropower station and museum.

On the bus, we learned that in World War II, Norwegian agents exploded the power station to prevent Germany from accessing the heavy water produced here to build a nuclear bomb. We didn’t end up visiting the museum because we spent extra time at our next stop on this photo tour, Hardangervidda National Park.

The sky was gray and rainy, so we had lunch while we waited for the sky to clear. After a exploring the reindeer museum and learning about the country’s farming heritage, the clouds disappeared, revealing stunning views of Norway’s largest national park.

On our last night in Norway, we sampled our freshly-baked bread around a mm impromptu campfire. I admired how clear the sky was and how quiet the mountains were on the walk back to the hotel. Even though it was late, I could see the path clearly in the moonlight. I was feeling a little lonely, but after a cup of chamomile tea with the friendly concierge in the lobby, I was relaxed and ready to sleep.

The floating sauna at the hotel.

In the morning after breakfast, we drove back to Oslo for one last meal together and to catch the ferry back to Copenhagen.

Sunrise and Norway’s most beautiful mountain, according to Lonely Planet.
A frosty morning.

After a delicious lunch, I was glad that the trip wasn’t over yet with the boat ride still ahead of us.  

When we arrived back in Denmark, I was surprised by how Copenhagen felt like home. Was I just back in my comfort zone or do I truly belong here? I can only imagine what New York will feel like when I return!

– Zoe

I almost managed to finish the bread.

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