The 385-mile Pilgrimtrail from Oslo to Trondheim offers a unique Norwagian travel adventure.
Almost 400 miles, 30 days and two pairs of hiking boots - not to mention a passionate and determined spirit - are the ingredients for an incredible Norwegian experience.
Each year a few hundred people embark on one of the most popular traditions of medieval Norway: hiking the Norwegian Pilgrimage; a 385-mile trail from Oslo to Trondheim.
Back in Time
Since the early eleventh century, the trail has attracted thousands of weary travelers who passed through forests and conquered mountainous skylines. Their mission? To walk toward the Nidaros Catedral in Trondheim, to pay homage to St. Olaf. Spurred by the hope of healing, these pilgrims continued to travel to the Cathedral for more than 500 years, caressing the silver shrine of St Olaf. That all changed in 1537, when the rise of Protestantism calmed their Catholic urges, and the trail was overgrown with brush and quitely forgotten. The trail remained an obscure memory for more than 450 years, until the Norwegian goverment officially reopened it to pilgrims in 1997.
Today Norwegians and Norwegian Americans alike can trace the footsteps of their ancestors in a tradition that is nearly one millennium old. And whether finding solace where all the pilgrims walked before or hiking under the brilliant Norwegian sky, there is no better way to get to know Norway than walking its land.
Taking it Easy
"This isn´t tourism. This is pilgrimage",says Eivind Luthen, the director of the Pilgrim Office in Oslo, Norway. What's the difference? Tourists drive. Pilgrims walk. Tourists rush. Pilgrims mosey.
"You need to be curious, to walk and enjoy nature. You will reap the results a hundred times more than if driving a car", Luthen says. Ask Norwegian American pilgrims Osmund Overby, 70, and his wife Barbara, 67, of Columbia. Mo., if they concur with Luthen' prediction and they'll invariably answer yes.
Not new to pilgrimages, the Overbys spent time on the Camino de Santiago in Spain and decided to embark on the Norwegian Pilgrimage last august. All in all, the Overbys spent 30 days walking most of the 385-mile trail. "It was a way of exploring our own tradition", says Osmund, a retired professor. Barbara, an artist, agrees. "You just have a very palpable sense of walking in other people's footsteps". Hiking under a cobalt sky, drawing drinking water from mountain streams, overlooking valleys of wildflowers whatever they did, the Overbys did with deliberation. Every step was measured. "We were walking six, eight, even 10 hours a day." Osmunds says. Rain or shine, the Overbys spent their days making their way across the Norwegian landscape. "It's a very releasing experience," Barbara says. "You dont think about things, you only put one step in front of the next one.
See the Sights
Walking the trail from Oslo to Trondheim lead pilgrims to more than just wild beuaty. During their trek, pilgrim will find medieval churches, holy wells and farmhouses scattered throughout villages along the way.
It's an old tradition that big farm would have places to take care of travelers," Osmund says. "It survived in many places they're like bed and breakfasts now."
When farmhouse bed and breakfasts aren't avaiable, try a hotel. "Some hotels are giving special prices to pilgrims", Luthen says. Along the Pilgrimage lay Hamar and Lillehammer, two cities the Overbys allotted extra time to explore. At Lillehammer the principal site of the 1994 Winter Olympics, pilgrims will find beatiful Lake Mjøsa, Norway's largest freshwater lake. In Hamar, pilgrims will feel the weight of history as they tour the medieval ruins of the Cathedral. Fans of Norwegian Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset will feel like they're walking across the pages of her 20th century trilogy, "Kristin Lavransdatter," as they trek from farm to farm, from Church to Church. In 1991 Liv Ullmann created a film around Undset's trilogy, constructing a farm along the trail identical to the one in the writer's book. "That was one of the places we stayed", Osmund says "We slept in a log cabin with a grass roof under reindeer skins".
A metaphor for Life
As the days grow into weeks, pilgrims who have walked the trail begin to understand the spiritual dimension to the trek. From the first step to the final exultation at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the pilgrimage is not so much about reaching the destination as it is simply walking the walk. Today there is always the question of deadlines,"Luthen says. "We talk in terms of finishing a process. But being on the road is a goal in itself". And pilgrims who walk the trail are often never the same. It is a lifestyle, Luthen says."It is not a question about reaching Trondheim. In the end, the pilgrimage is a metaphor for a new way of living.".
Hitting the Road
Intrigued by the Norwegian Pilgrimage? Heres what to know before hitting the road:
* Plan ahead. Expect the hike to take 30 days. Modern-day Pilgrims should be able to hike six to eight hours a day and have a good backpack and sturdy hiking boots.
*When to go. Trails are open June through September when there is no snow on the ground. Simple Accomodations. Bed and breakfasts along the route are specially priced for the pilgrims that make the trek each year. The average cost of a bed is $25 a night - and some a free of charge for pilgrims.
Keep in mind these are simple accomodations.
The Pilgrim Office has a English Guidebook to the pilgrimroad: Pilgrim Road to Nidaros by Alison Raju. Published April 2002. Cicerone Press. (Published by Cicerone Press Limited, 2 Police Square, Milnthorpe, Cumbria, La 7 PY, www.cicerone.co.uk). As well as giving directions for walking the route, the book also provides information on places of interest along the way and on the history of the pilgrimage and gives suggestions for further reading and a glossary of geographical and useful terms.
The Pilgrim Office has also a booklet, complete with information on 100 places to stay along the route. The cost for the booklet is 3 $ plus shipping.