It’s about 8 am and it’s still pitch black out . Its quiet and cold, – 6 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. The kind of cold where your eyes water at the slightest breeze and the tear down your check will freeze in seconds . Your clothes become hard after just a couple of minutes and your fingers and toes go numb soon thereafter . Trees spur loud cracking noises with any shift, the air is dry and a deep breath lets you know it is sub-zero. It’s January in Norway and I am visiting my cousins farm in the mountains about an hour outside Lillehammer.
Today I am lucky enough that my cousin Arnhild and I are going out riding on a couple of her horses . Icelandic horses , bred for the cold.
It has been a long time since I have ridden a horse , maybe when I was 12 or so. After suiting up in the equivalent of ski clothing, only maybe a bit stronger , she has saddled the horses and I climb aboard. Easy, easy…. yeah , it’s ok and we are moving right along and I am smiling like a kid again. We are in a mountain farming area , where taking out horses to ride is about as easy as going for a spin on your bike in the city, only better and much more scenic .
We are riding through the woods and fields covered with fresh snow. Icicle beards are forming around the noses and mouths of the horses and I probably am faring much the same. There’s no amount of beardbro products that will save you from the beard icicles, that’s just the reality of harsh climates. After a little while of slow riding, my cousin tells me to give the horse a bit of a jab with my heel and were are at what is called a trot I think , but it feels faster to me . I am smiling ear to ear and I don’t remember being this happy in a long time. I know horses are used a lot for therapy in various types of situations for people and I now understand why. We are trotting through the snow in the mountains in sub-zero temperatures. Because of the cold we did not stay out too long. After we returned to the barn, dismounted and brought the horses inside I am still smiling like a kid and I don’t even realize how cold my feet and hands had become. The skin on the tops of my hand are so cold that just brushing along the rough side of the velcro on my jacket is breaking skin and for whatever reason, I find it funny.
Being on a horse again and the stunning mountain views have left me with fond memories that I will not soon forget and I know how lucky I am to have family here.
I paid a visit and my respects at the Stave Church where my parents , grandparents, great grandparents etc, are in their final resting place. The church was built in 1220 ( that is not a typo ) and is one of the largest Stave Churches in Norway and also one of only 28 still standing . There was, I’m told over 1,000 of these churches at one time in Norway . This, in turn means it attracts a lot of tourists during the summer season. The architecture is stunning and the views of the mountains and valley make for magnificent views. This and the fact that so many members of my family are buried here leaves me feeling warm and chilled all at once. I returned the next day to talk a picture of the church covered in snow at night. Eerie and surreal.
After the church we take a drive to my uncles farm. Just a few minutes from the farm we come across a couple moose walking along the road. Luckily for me they didn’t get spooked to much by the sound of the car and I am able to snap a couple pictures with my phone. There seems to be a bit of discrepancy to if it’s moose or elk. I am unsure and something may be lost in translation but, moose or elk it is a first for me to stumble upon on the roadside.
It may now be negative 8 degrees outside but the sights of Norway and the chance to visit with my relatives has made this trip very special to me.
I’m heading back to Lillehammer and catching a train to Oslo to hop a flight to Amsterdam. As the train moves onward the skies darken again and it begins to snow again. I am enjoying the views of snow covered pine trees and frozen lakes from my warm seat aboard the train. I have always loved the sights of Norway and being here in the winter has just heightened my senses.