It’s Easter Sunday. Norway slows down the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Monday. Shops close. Businesses close. Many Norwegians take a trip to the mountains for days of winter skiing. Or they are on the coast, enjoying the hint and promise of spring. And many of them are at their hytte.
What the heck is a “hytte”? And what does it have to do with Norway, vacations, and especially culture?
Hytte is a difficult word to translate. From my American perspective it means vacation cabin. But it’s not just a physical building. The word represents generations of outdoor exploration and living, and the family hytte is at the center: it’s the place to return to after a day’s activities, and represents all that is cozy, warm, and relaxing with family. The more remote hyttes don’t have electricity or running water, require hours of hiking to reach, and then (in the winter) more hours of shoveling to get to the front door. There are also many hyttes closer to civilization; an hour or two of driving, and a family can have a relaxing weekend together.
At this stage of life, escaping to the mountains for days on end of hiking or skiing is something that is physically beyond my abilities. But I’m fascinated by this aspect of the culture, and enjoy listening to my husband’s stories of his experiences when he was a young boy and teenager, and father to young boys and teenagers. Experiencing “outside” was the backdrop for all their family activities, which is opposite mine as a girl, teenager, and Mom raising daughters.
In June of 2007, the first year I lived in Norway, a friend invited me out to her family’s hytte on the coast for an afternoon’s worth of girl time. Sotra, an island easily accessible from Bergen that has made several appearances in my blog before, is rocky and typical of the southern Norwegian coast. It reminds me of my trips to Monhegan Island, Maine.
My friend had fixed a lunch that we enjoyed on the deck overlooking the small harbor area looking out towards the Norwegian Sea. The sky was washed out and bright, and the landscape showed the effects of the strong winds that blow in off the ocean.
After lunch we took our dessert — a thermos of coffee and tin of sweet rolls — and went out in their small row boat, planning to get to one of the small outcroppings visible in those images above. My friend was rowing the boat, and I was supposed to offer steering guidance from my place at the bow. I was clueless; I’m sure it was a comical site, with strong winds pushing us in various directions and me offering useless suggestions. My friend wisely decided it wasn’t the safest activity! We returned to the dock and took our dessert to an area overlooking the ocean. Once there, we realized we’d forgotten coffee mugs … so used the aluminum containers that had held the sweets. More laughter for the two of us! The early June sun, approaching the longest day of the year, was glaring and hot. It was a peaceful time, all centered on my friend sharing her family hytte with me.
I asked my husband to share his experience both as a boy/teenager, and in the family hytte in northern Norway as his boys were growing up. It’s the typical Norwegian experience of his generation.
My whole life I have been roaming the mountains. Skiing in the winter and hiking the rest of the year. Every week-end, no matter what weather it was, we packed our rucksacks and went skiing or hiking. We never thought about the WHY; it was part of our culture.
As I grew older, we started getting bolder, walking and tenting in the mountains (the real high and dangerous ones) for days and even crossing glaciers. Properly equipped, if the weather got really bad, we dug ourselves a snow hole and waited for the weather to get better.
When my boys grew up, we had a hytte way up in the high mountains of the north. Summertime it was fairly easy living, despite no electricity, no tap water and no toilets. It was marvelous! Walking to the creek to get water, fire up the fireplace and fry dried reindeer meat, light the kerosene lamps, watching the field mice and squirrels hopping around in the fire wood. And long hikes in the deserted mountains, coffee making on a fire beside a lake or a creek, watching the reindeer, the occasional wolverine or even a brown bear and numerous birds. The boys learned very early to walk in the mountains, that is, keep a steady pace and get into a rhythm and make enough noise to alert any predators. It was a wonderful time…
Winter is very different. First of all, we had to get there. In foul weather, the road was closed. If we got there it was very cold, down to around minus 30 degrees centigrade ( and fantastic polar light!), a lot of snow, 5 to 7 yards, and we had to get to the hytte. It was quite a stretch to either ski or trample in the snow and the last hill was very steep, so I had to carry food and sometimes kids up a little at a time…
Once we were there, we could only see the top of the pipe of the hytte, so I actually had to dig a tunnel into the door, and once inside, fire up the stove and the fireplace and get some food and drink into our bodies. It took two days for the hytte to thaw, and in the meantime we had to stay winter clothed at all times, even when we slept.
If this sounds exhausting, we actually never thought about it. It was as it should be…
No photos to show of the family hytte, but his description does it justice, doesn’t it? Here’s one found online that’s in the same area … but missing the final steep hill to get there!
Click the photo to see others similar to it, as well as photos of families enjoying summer and winter activities during their time at their hytte.
How about one more photo? This one from the 1960’s is my husband, 17 years old, out for a hike in Sogndal with his friends (referenced in his second paragraph up there). I say “hike” — but this trek was part of a fourteen hour day: hours up a steep ascent from a hytte to get there, hours exploring the area, hours back down. The glacier is one we took my oldest daughter to see when we visited Sogndal in 2010 … although we didn’t get as close as Jan is in this photo, and — to make it easier for this American — our “hytte” was a comfortable hotel . 😉