Monday, January 23, 2012

Travel Lessons from Telemark

I've always wanted to visit the Telemark region of Norway, and last summer I was able to make this dream a reality. When my family traveled to Norway last August, we managed to squeeze in a two-day trip in the area that included cruising the Telemark canal and overnighting at one of the region's many guest farms. Like any good travel experience, I learned a few lessons along the way.

Lesson #1: Rent-A-Wreck is not for everyone. It's easiest to get around Telemark by car, and renting a vehicle is really expensive in Norway, so you might be tempted (like I was) to look for cheaper alternatives. While the Rent-A-Wreck office looks like it's conveniently located near Akerbrygge in the heart of Oslo, it's actually situated in an industrial neighborhood and it's a hike from the waterfront. As you might expect, travelers are not really their target market. This became very apparent when we had to circle the warehouse a couple of times to find the correct entrance. We were traveling to Telemark with friends from Oslo, so we needed a big vehicle. And while the van was indeed large enough to hold seven of us, it came with only six shoulder belts and definitely had seen better days. The fact that there was no air conditioning had me momentarily panicked, too. But then I remembered I was in Norway, where AC is rarely needed. It all worked out fine, and we did save a bundle, but I can't recommend Rent-A-Wreck to most Viking readers.

Lesson #2: Allow extra time to get to your destination. When looking at a map of Telemark, you might think, wow...there's really no direct route to where I'm headed. This is an understatement. As a gal from the Midwest, where life is laid out more or less on a grid, I'm usually unprepared for Norway's winding and twisting (in other words, slow) mountainous roads and this was no exception. When you get off the main highways, don't be fooled into thinking you can keep driving at normal highway speeds.

Lesson #3: Don't forget Dramamine. The charming mountain roads and amazing scenery come with a price: car sickness. This is especially true when you're in a hurry because you're trying to catch a boat. By the time we reached Ulefoss, our destination along the canal, we were all looking a bit green. I can only imagine what would have happened had we not all popped some Dramamine. Later in the trip, we learned that it's not as easily available as it is in the states, so definitely bring an ample supply if you think you'll need it.

Does it sound like I didn't enjoy my time in Telemark? Not true! Even when I was cruising through the countryside in a shabby van, late and nauseated, I couldn't think of anywhere I would rather be. And as the day went on, things only got better.

Lesson #4: The Telemark Canal is wonderful way to see the countryside. After speeding through mountainous byways, a slow, smooth ride on a canal boat was a welcome change of pace. We took a 2-1/2-hour excursion on the Telemark canal, from Ulefoss to Lunde, which was just about right for the kids. If I do this trip again, I might consider a longer trip, perhaps biking one direction and cruising the other. There's also an opportunity to get out and hike along the canal route—a great option for those looking for a bit more activity than the boat provides.

Lesson #5: Farm stays are fun! We visited the idyllic Nordigard Bjørge in Seljord, operated by the warm and welcoming Bjørge family. The kids loved exploring the farm and getting acquainted with the animals there. My daughter loved the fact that the guest house felt so homey and my son was excited to find a trampoline. I was happy to find a well-equipped kitchen in the charming old farm house, since we had planned to make our own meals.

Lesson #6: Happy cows = great ice cream. The folks at Nordigard Bjørge produce their own gourmet ice cream in mouthwatering flavors like kiwi and black current. It was simply the best ice cream we tasted in Norway, and we tasted a lot!

For more information on what to see and do in Telemark, check out my article, "The Best of All Worlds," in the January issue of Viking.

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

All photos by Doug Bratland.

No comments: