Recently, I turned 22. It’s not a particularly special age (I do not count the fact that there’s a whole Taylor Swift song dedicated to the number as reason enough to be special), so I wasn’t particularly fussed about it – although realising that I didn’t really care about birthdays any more certainly made me feel older! However, it turned out to definitely be one of the most memorable birthdays I’ve ever had – and by “memorable”, I mean “Norwegian”.
Before Christmas, I was voted a board member at the society which owns the student cafe I volunteer at. Initially, I wasn’t completely sure what being Rekrutteringsanvarlig (Head of Recruitment) actually meant, but luckily there was a styrekurs (seminar weekend) planned for the second weekend back after Christmas. And because Norwegians are incapable of not being in the wilderness when making important decisions, the styrekurs was going to happen at a hytte (a hut/cottage).
As much as I joke about exactly the level of Norwegian that Norwegians can reach, purely for the sake of being Norwegian, there was also a perfectly legitimate reason for the hyttetur. In Norway, socialising is done in a very specific way; the idea of small talk with a stranger is likely to give most Norwegians a minor panic attack. Randomly walking up to a Norwegian and introducing yourself is a sure fire way of making them feel uncomfortable, which will lead to the whole situation becoming uncomfortable, and end in them being scared away. Therefore, if you want to get to know Norwegians, you need a planned activity – an established reason of talking to each other (Thor recently told me that if we hadn’t been on the same cafe shift and thus had a justification to talk, he probably wouldn’t have spoken to me at all). And if there’s anything that’s bound to bring people closer together, it’s taking them to a small hut in the middle of a snowy forest.
So my birthday was on the Friday, and we were setting off in the afternoon. Thor, Nicolas, Jan and Hans Petter were driving up in a car first – and the resulting minor bitterness from the rest of us was only soothed by their promises of having food ready by the time the rest of us had hiked up there. We without a car met up in Escape so we could take the metro together.
If you’re unfamiliar with Norway, or have been living on a remote sunny island, unconcerned with the more northern parts of the world, it gets pretty cold in winter. In fact, that weekend it reached -15, which is the coldest I’ve ever experienced (even including China). Even in the city centre, there was ice and snow everywhere. However, this doesn’t make the fact that I fell over on the way to get the t-bane any less embarrassing. Morgaine kindly stopped to help me up – but as we were essentially on an ice slope, I couldn’t get my footing and she ended up pulling me down the slope on my butt (luckily, I’ve inherited what my dad refers to as “the Scott bum”, so I was well padded for such a situation!).
We took the t-bane to Majorstuen where, after a quick pølse break, we took line 2 all the way to Kolsås. From there we took a bus to Lømmedalen in Bærum – aka, in the words of Nikolas, “The Back End of Nowhere”. This is when the walk started.
It’s equal parts breathtaking and frustrating how idyllic Norway can be sometimes. We walked up a narrow path, lit only by the light glowing from the windows of the few surrounding houses and some random fairy lights in a tree in someone’s back garden. As we came further out of the small village and towards the surrounding forest, the stars and the moonlight bouncing off all the snow meant that it didn’t get much darker. It was one of those places that if it didn’t exist in Norway, would exist somewhere between a fairytale and a Christmas card. Although, my romantic feelings towards the whole situation became slightly marred by the fact that it was -15 and walking up hill in the snow. Morgaine, the only other ‘foreigner’ on the styrekurs, who grew up in Bahrain and has British parents, sympathised greatly with the struggle.
After walking for ten minutes at a seventy degree angle into the forest, cold and not completely sure of where we were going, it wasn’t just Morgaine and I having a hard time coping and Jan was called to pick us up in the car. We made it to the top of one hill and literally “chilled” while waiting for the car, which arrived pretty quickly, considering the circumstances.
As there was only room for four more people and there were six of us walking, Silje, Nils, Morgaine and I heroically grabbed places in the car while Andreas and Nikolas decided to keep walking until Jan came back for them.
On the drive up, I became more and more grateful that Jan had picked us up; both due to the car’s central heating and the increasing length of time we drove for. At one point we had to stop to let two baby moose cross the road – and I say baby, but they were still taller than I was. While moose tend to leave people alone, baby moose mean that there was a mother moose close by and those tend to be a little protective if she or her babies are startled. We briefly contemplated ringing Nikolas and Andreas to warn them but faith in Nikolas’ and Andreas’ innate Norwegian affinity with nature and lack of phone coverage meant that we drove on, mostly reassured that they would be fine.
Jan dropped us off at a make shift car park with our bags and directions to follow their footsteps to the cabin. Feeling semi-confident, we set off into the snow – which proved tricker than earlier as, while the snow on the earlier paths had been harder and compacted down into a makeshift path, the snow we walked through now was fresh and came up to my knees. Even treading in their footsteps, walking was difficult, though ironically, if the snow hadn’t been so deep and compacted around my legs like a form of support, I definitely would’ve fallen on my butt
With only footprints and a mobile phone light to lead the way, we eventually came to a small selection of cabins – and a few minutes after that, we found the right cabin. It was called “Streptokåken” and which I found hilarious, as I thought it sounded like “streptoccocus” (I later found out that that this was entirely intentional and the Vetinary society – who own the hytte – apparently enjoy their puns!).
I’ve been on a hyttetur a couple of times – but both of those times had been at the OSI hytte with boxing, which is more like a youth hostel; with a large common room and a big fireplace, a kitchen, a separate restaurant and big dormitories to sleep in (though it still followed the tradition of being placed in the middle of a forest, an hour’s hike away from civilisation). This hytte however, was definitely a more traditional Norwegian hytte.
It was pretty small; it had one main room with a large table and a bench running around the edge. The kitchen was a decent size, with an old oven and a fridge – although no sink as there was no indoor plumbing; water had to be fetched from the well outside. A small room off the living room was a bedroom with two bunkbeds. The rest of the sleeping places were up a small staircase to an attic-like space where a load of mattresses were stacked, to be arranged at will.
The toilet was outside and had been affectionately dubbed “Den Dritten” (lit. “The Shitter). While the toilet looked like a standard porcelain throne, you soon realised when you lifted the lid that it led to a standard Norwegian cess pit (it was at this point that I absolutely regretted watching Død Snø, as every time I used the toilet, I was overtly paranoid of something climbing out of the toilet to get me – and by something, I specifically mean a Nazi Zombie).
There was a sauna, however the enthusiasm for that was short lived when we realised that there was nowhere to shower afterwards… just a lake which was beyond the car park Jan had dropped us off in and, considering it was probably frozen over at this point, not an option (for some reason my plan of just rolling around in the snow afterwards wasn’t received with much enthusiasm either). All this, plus the fact that the hytte hadn’t been used for a few weeks and was thus as cold inside as it was outside, meant that everyone was feeling a little low. While there was a fire place, it was out of order so everyone took it in turns crowding around an iron wood burner in order to get warm.
However, once everyone had gotten settled in (re: taken off their snow crusted coats and added on several more jumpers) and tacos had been served (despite the promise by those in the car that they’d have dinner ready for us walking, they’d only just finished unpacking by the time we all got in – though in their defence, Thor later told me that they’d spent around forty five minutes wandering around in the snow trying to initially find the hytte, which didn’t sound too much fun!), the atmosphere picked up. There was no wifi but there was electricity so people huddled around playing games on their laptops while Hans Petter provided music with his portable DJ station (yes, really.). We boiled some water for coffee (we initially tried with snow but that just evaporated rather than boiled) and as the hytte slowly began to heat up, it all began to get rather koselig.
Peak koselig was reached when we were all snuggled up in respective beds (or mattresses) and it began to snow rather heavily outside – which, in my more sentimental moments, I might describe as a beautiful sight to fall asleep to.
After sleep and breakfast, the hytte felt a lot warmer – both literally, due to the log burner, and metaphorically as people felt a lot happier after a night of rest. Following breakfast, we had the actual styrekurs in which we talked about responsibilities and goals we had for the society this semester, both as a team and as individuals. This turned out to be awesome as not only did I feel pretty grown up, but I also felt a lot more enthusiasm for my role – whereas before I’d felt a little nervous about having such a responsible position.
It had snowed a lot in the night and outside was brighter than I expected, due to the reflection of the sun off the great piles of snow around us. My feelings towards it were a lot more benevolent when I wasn’t trying to trudge my way through in the dark and I began to really enjoy stomping around in it. Play was limited however, as I wasn’t dressed quite appropriately enough to go rolling around in it – though this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it was the only thing that saved me from being unceremoniously being flung into the snow by Thor (though he did get to bear witness to me ungracefully falling on my butt (again) as we went to see the well, so I think he was satisfied!).
For dinner we had burgers, which I helped make and was a great success in that the burgers were edible and the hytte did not burn down! One of them did drop on the floor for a slight moment but since it was in the five second rule, we brushed it down and didn’t say a word. I did notice that Nicolas was the unlucky one who both ate that burger and drank a cup of water with some burger fat in, from where some flecks had landed in the bucket of drinking water as the burger fell. He wasn’t too impressed when he found out.
We stayed up pretty late that night, listening to Hans Petter’s DJ remixes (and probably vastly interrupting the serene Norwegian environment outside) and generally enjoying an atmosphere that was dripping with kos. I was feeling pretty Norwegian at this point; I’d even brushed my teeth standing on the porch with a cup of drinking water and spitting intermittently out onto the snow (sounds gross – not as gross as my breath would have been in the morning). But then bedtime came and it became obvious that there was still one aspect in which I am not Norwegian at all.
I love my pyjamas. My idea of Heaven, it would be a hot shower followed by a fresh pair of fluffy pyjamas, preferably accompanied by chocolate and back to back episodes of Miranda (though this may also result in me sleeping through eternity). As I expected the hytte to be chilly I thought it perfectly natural that I’d packed my warmest pyjamas (and woolly socks). Yet apparently, as the Norwegians delighted in informing me, this was positively prudish as the only way to sleep at a hytte was in your underwear (and a sleeping bag, of course).
Sheesh, Norwegians might be hard to get to know but put them in a hytte with some alcohol and suddenly the floodgates open!
We had to leave the next day and despite that literally being the only thing planned, we were still up at ten for breakfast (some of us took it better than others – Nicolas was hustled out of bed and down the stairs by Jan, only in his underwear). Getting back took a lot less time than getting to the hytte and, like all journeys home after a fun weekend, it was bitter sweet. Despite the lack of modern commodities, the feeling of koselig at that hytte was a very real and enjoyable thing and I would have loved to stay for another few days (though I think I would have smelt a lot more by the end of it!). 10/10, top birthday!
I also learnt a new word over the weekend; “å base“, which is a verb meaning “to push” (specifically, “to push into the snow”). I was even given an example sentence when Jan ominously declared to Nicolas, “Noen må bases!“, meaning “someone must be pushed into the snow!”. Luckily, Nicolas seemed to escape this fate!