M and I took a weeks break at Easter and went to visit M's mum who had come over to Norway to stay at her 150 year old hytte a couple of hours outside of Oslo in the south east. We decided to let the train take the strain on the way over and for a little extra we booked seats in the Komfort carriage. Reclining leather seats, more leg room than you could ever want, free tea and coffee, newspapers, power sockets for laptops/Nintendos/waffle-irons and stunning scenery. The views outside our window ran from the dark, rocky peaks of the western fjords, through the high, snow and ice bound interior, back down through the rolling fields of the south and finally the junkies and graffiti of Oslo Central Train Station. A quick change of train and we were on a stopper service back out into the very Hazard County-esque countryside to Kongsvinger where we were met by M's mum and a surprise in the form of M's sister too. Cue squeals and hugs (not by me, obviously).
There was still quite a lot of snow around on the small hills surrounding the valley. Good job I'd brought my cross-country planks! My first job when we unlocked the hytte after it's winter-long hibernation was to get four out of the six stoves fired up. With no heating or running water there was plenty of proper Walton-type chores to be done before we even had a cuppa and the four of us scuttled about making the place habitable. It may take an hour and a half but there is something very satisfying about chopping wood and kindling, fighting to get four stoves lit simultaneously and then sitting back with a cup of tea, a warm hytte and the smell of wood smoke.
Thus began a very chill-axing week that comprised of a lot of sitting around, soaking up the fresh air. We did get some exercise though. On the first full day we moved three palletised containers of firewood across the yard from where they were delivered to the cow shed. Many hands (and a wheel barrow) make light work. M's mum and myself also spent a morning cutting back the young birch saplings that threatened to take over the garden behind the hytte. I also got to get out on my skis on a couple of occasions. The first time we all went up the 12km gravel 'bom' road in the brand spanking new (0.2 km on the clock) Honda Civic hire car. It was a bit hairy in places but thankfully still frozen solid as it can get a bit soft in places in wet weather. We pulled up to the cross country ski arena and I went for a quick spin while the girls had a bit of a walk on the compacted trails.
As the week wore on the snow was melting faster and faster. Squadrons of white geese flew northwards over head, sometimes settling for a while in the waterlogged fields before continuing their journey to their summer tundra homes. We visited friends in the area and ate a lot of cake too. After M's sister flew back to England on the Friday I had another chance to get out and do some skiing. This time I drove just myself up the 'bom' road and it was a completely different beast. Huge ruts in the mud, gravel verges that looked firm but sank without a trace the second you edged the car on to them, trying to drive around the mud holes. Sump-killing rocks appeared out of nowhere and I had to pass two grizzly 4x4s on the way up the single track who gave me quizzical looks as I edged past in my little Japanese urban run-around. More through luck and a heavy foot in the mud I managed to make it up to the ski arena (ONLY 4x4s parked in the car park...) and embarked on an amazing day in the snowy forests.
The area is a lot different to the mountains in the west. The terrain is rolling and forested for the most part, encrusted with small lakes and hyttes ranging from run down sheds to luxury lodges. The snow was slushy now and the Nordic tracks hadn't been cut for days by the looks of things so it was a lot more like back-country ski touring. Thankfully the network of trails are well signposted and after a couple of hours I made my way to a ski hyyte at the highest point that was a sight for sore eyes.
There, on the forested hillside was a fully kitted out ski hytte, resplendent with tables, chairs, games, food, maps, emergency equipment, firewood and the heat of a recently tended stove. There is a visitors book and photo albums so while I dried off and warmed up I sat down and read through the books before adding my own name and leaving some Kroner for the bar of chocolate I munched. Just as I was leaving I heard the what I thought was the buzz of a chainsaw in the distance but soon a skidoo came into view and I had a chat with the guy who cuts the Nordic tracks and services the ski hytte. He said this was the last weekend they would be coming out here and that the snow was now 'rotten' along a lot of the trails. He advised me to follow the freshly cut tracks back to the ski arena as some of the trails were also now dangerously thin over the lakes and water was lying on top of the ice. I made my way back and my grin as I whizzed down the roller-coater trail towards the ski arena was tinged with sadness as I thought this was probably the last day I would get to go skiing this winter. Somehow I made it back down the 'bom' road, gravity, and the 'Winter Ice Storm' tyres, definitely gave a hand to my less than stellar driving skills. Thankfully the little Civic proved to be just tough enough as I crunched and slithered back down the road ("Please let me make it, please let me make it!I promise I'll never off road in a road car gain!").
The week drew to a close and we reversed the hytte opening chores, sweeping out stoves, emptying water containers and packing all the food away in mouse-proof boxes. It had been a nice, relaxing, back-to-basics week away but now M, her mum and myself all had to go back to work. We drove the now very muddy, somewhat noisy and slightly wobbly Honda back to the airport and made our separate ways to Bergen and England. Our 40 minute flight back to Bergen was probably the most scenic flight I'd ever taken. We emerged through the airport into summer-like conditions, bright blue sky, hot, not warm, but hot sunshine and not a spot of snow to be seen on the mountains around Bergen. Winter was now over and barring the odd freak snow shower I think we've seen the last of the white stuff until next winter. Time to break out the shorts!